All posts by thehipmunk

When to Go 2017: 120 Top North American Destinations

This post is originally published on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by , on January 11, 2017.

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It’s a new year, and with it comes the endless possibilities for the adventures, experiences, and memories that travel brings. But with uncertainty abroad, many Americans may choose to stay closer to home this year. Yet domestic travel can be just as challenging to plan as excursions abroad. And while most travel data analyses concentrate on when to buy or where to go, just as crucial is when to go. Indeed, at Hipmunk we get asked all the time when the best time to travel to a particular destination is (read: the cheapest). So this year, we decided to expand on last year’s When to Go Monthly Index, increasing the list to include 120 North American cities (with dedicated ski and Hawaii charts below), concentrating solely on low-cost airfare, and adding our most popular Canadian destinations to round out the list.

We dug through 18 months of Hipmunk flight bookings to find you the average monthly airfare to each of these 120 cities (103 US, 17 Canadian) when departing from the US, highlighting the least expensive times of the year to go to these top destinations.

So consider this your yearly guide: pin it to Pinterest, download one or more of the charts to your computer for easy reference, or simply print and put it on your fridge.

Let’s jump in! And don’t forget to check out our When to Go 2017: Canada, Hawaii, and Mountain indexes following our US breakdown below.

When to Go

*Average monthly airfare departing from US 

It’s pretty obvious that the best times to travel domestically is either Jan/Feb or Shoulder Season (Aug/Sep): a whopping 66 percent of the cities listed above named January as one of their two least expensive times to visit. Indeed, this maxim holds true even for Hawaii vacays, where four out five cities analyzed returned January as one of its “when to go” months.

When to Go: Hawaii*Average monthly airfare departing from US 

And while better deals may be found in the fall, there’s still ample time to take advantage of winter and spring ski season savings:

When to Go: Mountains + Ski

*Average monthly airfare departing from US 

Rounding out our When to Go 2017 list is our neighbors up north (a few of these cities were included in our ski chart, above). Celebrating its 150th anniversary of confederation this year, Canada has seen a boost in popularity for Americans lately thanks in part to a strong exchange rate. Here are the best times to maximize the dollar’s spending power:

When to Go: Canada

*Average monthly airfare departing from US 

Of course, the best way to ensure you purchase the lowest flight prices in any month is to book about six weeks in advance and to set a fare alert.

Tell us in the comments below: where are you planning on going this year?

Methodology: Hipmunk analyzed prices for round-trip flight booking made from July 1, 2015 – Dec 31, 2016, departing from the US and arriving in either US or Canadian cities from Jan 1, 2016 – Dec 31, 2016. 

How to Visit Cuba on a Budget

The post below was originally published on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on April 12, 2016 by The Hipmunk.

Now that Cuba’s tourism industry is up and running, we’re doing everything we can to educate our readers about how to make the most of their Cuban vacations. From knowing which cities to visit to learning how the country has changed and prepping for your trip, we’ve got you covered.

If you’re ready to visit but worried about finances, we’ve still got your back. Simply implement the following strategies in order to enjoy a budget-friendly trip to Cuba.

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It helps to know Spanish.

Overwhelmingly, travelers to Cuba report that you’ll be more accepted if you speak Spanish—and that means you’re more likely to be offered lower prices and to haggle successfully. Even if you don’t have time to become fluent before your visit, learning a few key Spanish phrases will surely make the trip a little easier.

Don’t withdraw or exchange cash in Cuba.

Cuba currently uses two types of currency: the CUC, which is designated primarily for tourists, and the CUP (the peso national), which is civilians’ primary currency. (The government has announced plans to eliminate the dual currency system, but has yet to do so.) For the most part, tourists will be dealing in CUCs, but budget-friendly travelers may want to keep a few CUPs on hand (more on that later). In either case, it’s smart to exchange your money before arriving in Cuba—otherwise you’ll incur a 10% penalty to exchange dollars to CUCs. Similarly, avoid using credit cards whenever possible, as fees are quite steep.

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Plan for exit and entry.

You’ll be charged $25 CUC to enter Cuba, and another $25 CUC when you fly out of the airport. Go ahead and set aside $50 CUC before your trip so you aren’t caught by surprise on the way in or out of the country. While you’re at it, set aside another $20-$25 CUC for the taxi ride from the airport.

Take advantage of cheap eats.

Want to save money on food? Then seek out local establishments that operate on pesos (namely, street food vendors and peso restaurants). This can be a serious money saver—think the difference between paying $0.80 or $8.00 for a sandwich. If you’re staying in a casa particular (aka a private homestay), this is also a good place to eat cheaply—meals tend to be huge (meaning you can split one dish between two people) and less expensive than meals at touristy restaurants. Or hit up hotel buffets for a meal that will fill you up for around $8 CUC.

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Pack your own snacks and toiletries.

Basic toiletries and medical supplies—think sunscreen, Aspirin, and contact lens solution—are either very expensive or totally unavailable in Cuba, so don’t assume that you can pick up supplies once you’ve arrived. Instead, bring along any toiletries that you can’t go without. Same goes for your favorite snack foods.

Get mobile like a local.

Cuba has designated tourist buses, and (not surprisingly) they can  be a bit of a money trap. You’ll save on transportation by taking public buses, camiones (i.e open-backed trucks), or shared taxis. As an added bonus, local transportation tends to operate on a more flexible timetable than the tourist buses.

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Entertain thyself.

Cuba has a vibrant nightlife scene, and you can drink for change if you stick to local establishments. (A good rule of thumb: Avoid any club that charges an entrance fee.) If you’re not sure where to go, ask your casa hosts or local street vendors for suggestions. If the club scene isn’t your thing, you can still find cheap entertainment in the form of museums, which typically charge only $1-2 CUC for entry. Just be aware that many museums charge an additional fee for anyone who wants to take photos.

While Cuba may not be the cheapest destination around, there are plenty of deals to be had for the frugal traveler. Just remember: When in doubt, act like a local.

Airbnbs: Breakout Star of Spring Break 2016

The post below was originally published on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on February 25, 2016 by The Hipmunk.

spring_break_nutshell_ABy: Hipmunk Staff

Ah, Spring Break. That annual week of respite from school, from work, from responsibilities. (Hey, we can dream, right?) The point is, Spring Break is for everyone– not just coeds.

But since the holiday is so widely marketed to college students, we wondered whether traditional party locations really dominated the Spring Break vacation market and how the rise in popularity of vacation rentals such as Airbnb affected hotel bookings.

To find out, Hipmunk analyzed the most-booked Spring Break destinations for airfare and hotels, which we defined for our purposes as beginning Friday, March 18, 2016, the week preceding Easter (although the dates can vary widely). To break it down further, we also looked the most popular destinations for Airbnb vacation rentals and compared that to the same week the year before to see how those numbers had changed.

Here’s what we found:

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, major US destinations, popular year-round, dominated the list, with Orlando, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles claiming the top spots for most-booked flights.  Yet simply looking at destinations where one must take a plane doesn’t fully reveal the most popular Spring Break destinations, as many travelers choose to vacation in locations that are a drivable distance from where they reside.

To broaden our scope, we also looked at which destinations were garnering the most accommodation bookings for Spring Break 2016.

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Again, major US cities topped the rankings. But by only looking at flights and accommodations, we are still neglecting to highlight locations where vacationers are more inclined to look for rentals than hotels. To discover these destinations we looked first at the locations with the highest net number of Airbnb vacation rental bookings and then compared that number to the total number of overall accommodation bookings in that city for Spring Break to reveal what percentage of those bookings were Airbnbs.

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Again, cities such as Miami and Las Vegas return a large total number of Airbnb bookings for Spring Break, but smaller resort towns like Sarasota, FL and Palm Springs, CA, boast a much larger percentage of Airbnbs for their total bookings. Perhaps the one anomaly is Cancun, Mexico, where Airbnbs have claimed 40 percent of Hipmunk bookings for Spring Break 2016.

It seems that when it comes to Spring Break, Florida is the vacation rental king, claiming five of the 10 top spots!

Digging deeper, Airbnbs are continuing to increase in terms of their share of the accommodation market, as more and more travelers see vacation rentals as a viable alternative to hotels.

In 2015, Airbnbs made up 4.4 percent of all Hipmunk’s Spring Break bookings; as of publication date, that number has risen to 9.5 percent.

Indeed, several of the cities that cracked the top 10 Airbnb destinations weren’t on the list last year at all:

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Looking year-over-year, every city that made both this and last year’s lists increased their proportion of Airbnb bookings, excepting for New York, which saw a decrease of three percent.

Of the cities that made this year’s list (but not 2015’s), Cancun saw its proportion of Airbnb rentals increase explosively, from just 9 percent in 2015; Sarasota’s proportion was only 19 percent in 2015; Honolulu came in at 2 percent last year; Destin was 30 percent in 2015; and Palm Springs came in at 28 percent in 2015.

In the end, it seems that the Sunshine State is also the 2016 Spring Break Capital, claiming multiple spots in every Top 10 category: flights, hotels, and vacation rentals.

And if these destinations seem just a bit too tame or you want to escape the states, be sure to check out our Spring Break College Cheat Sheet or just shoot an email to Hello@Hipmunk.com with all your burning Spring Break travel questions.

Methodology: Hipmunk analyzed its 2016 data for bookings that occurred starting the week of March 18, 2016 (Spring Break) for flight, hotel, and Airbnb bookings, in addition to data for the same week in 2015.

 

The Insider’s Guide to Conquering Comic Con

The post below was originally published on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on April 13, 2016 by The Hipmunk.

Another year, another multitude of Comic Cons to attend. Whether you’re hitting up the mother of all Cons in San Diego, cosplaying in NYC, or attending a smaller Comic Con in Grand Rapids or Amarillo, the following strategies will help ensure that you have a truly delightful time.

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Buy tickets early.

Whenever possible, buy tickets online before the event. You’ll save money and avoid the heartbreak of arriving at Comic Con only to find out that the special event you needed to see has already sold out.

Make a plan in advance.

There is so much to see at Comic Con, and it’s physically impossible to see it all. For this reason, it’s important to study the schedule and venue maps in advance so that you can plan out each day around your must-see events. If you want to see one of the major presentations (say, Game of Thrones in San Diego’s Hall H), keep in mind that you’ll need to budget in hours (and hours) of time for waiting in line. And because there are no guarantees that you’ll actually make it into the room you’re waiting in line to enter (especially because many venues don’t empty rooms after panels), it’s a good idea to have a backup plan (or several). One last tip: If you’re traveling with friends, remember to designate a meeting place before you split up for the day.

Bring cash.

Some vendors don’t accept credit cards, and ATM machines are few and far between. (And the ones that do exist are guaranteed to have insanely long lines). Spare yourself headaches and lost time by bringing plenty of cash with you to the venue.

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Avoid parking (if possible).

It will come as no surprise that parking at Comic Con can be a major headache. In the rare cases that you do manage to find a spot near the venue, it’s likely it will cost you—some lots have been known to charge upwards of $50 per day. If at all possible, ditch the car and arrive at the venue via public transportation or on foot. If you must drive, be sure to arrive early in the day for the best chance at finding a spot.

Be social.

It’s a smart idea to download the venue’s app, which is an indispensable resource for navigating any Con. It can also be helpful to create a list on Twitter that includes the official Comic Con Twitter handle, any vendors that you want to see, and people whom you know will be present. Don’t underestimate how valuable real-time updates can be when you’ve been standing in line for three hours.

This tip also extends beyond the digital space. There are tons of great connections to be had at Comic Con, so don’t be shy about approaching people. Bonus: Chatting up fellow comics fans is a great way to pass the time while waiting in line. Which brings us to…

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Prepare to wait.

We’ve mentioned that you’ll spend a lot of time waiting in line at Comic Con, right? We’re not kidding. Instead of hoping that it won’t happen to you, accept that it will—and then plan accordingly. Download podcasts to listen to, bring a book or journal, play games on your phone (just make sure it’s fully charged before Con), or simply settle in and enjoy the time to let your mind wander. Just remember to make sure you’re actually in the right line—sometimes lines bend and merge together, so check to be sure you aren’t wasting your time in the wrong place.

Practice self-care.

As always, you’ll be much more likely to enjoy yourself if you do what you can to avoid getting sick or burnt out. Stay hydrated, get enough sleep, wash your hands often, and pack healthy snacks—healthy food can be hard to come by at Cons, especially when you’re stuck waiting in line. Having snacks on hand can provide the blood sugar boost you need to continue having a great time.

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Ask permission.

A common phrase heard round Con is that “Cosplay is Not Consent.” What this means is that just because someone is cosplaying (or simply present at Comic Con), that does not give you the right to touch them, harass them, or photograph them without their permission. If you want a picture, just ask—most people are more than happy to indulge. Be polite, keep your hands to yourself, and remember that everyone there is a human just like you.

Consider cybersecurity.

Wi-Fi is often available in most convention centers, but you’re likely to find that it’s painfully slow (or completely jammed) because of the sheer number of people trying to log on. You may see free networks available, but be cautious—some of these may be malicious. It’s a good idea to always practice good cyber-security strategies (even if this means you have to hold off on uploading photos to social media until you get home).

Above all else, remember to enjoy yourself. Though the lines may be long and your plans may change, the sheer number of interesting people and panels to see means that you’ll have a great time at Comic Con simply by going with the flow.

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7 Tips For Traveling Across The Country On A Budget

The post below was originally published on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on August 11, 2015 by The Hipmunk.

Enjoying road trip. Rear view of young happy people enjoying road trip in their convertible and raising their arms up

If you’re going to try to see the countless amazing sites across America, you’ll need to get started now. And if you’re hoping to remain within a budget, you should definitely follow these tips.

1. Use Technology for Cheap Gas

Imagine if you knew which gas stations along your route had the lowest-priced fuel. Just think of how much you could save! That’s exactly what GasBuddy does. You can check out their website or download the app, and never overpay for gas again!

 

Four colorful eco-friendly shopping bags filled mostly with groceries in the opened trunk of a car.

2. Bring Your Own Groceries

If you’re driving across the country, a cooler with lunch meats, soda and condiments can come in handy at rest stops. Even when you’re staying at a hotel, it’s best to have food stored in the refrigerator. Save eating out for those special restaurants that you just have to try.

3. Invest in a Federal Recreation Pass

Some cities are always going to be expensive, but if you think ahead and buy a Federal Recreation Pass, you can enter federally-funded recreation areas throughout the United States for free. This includes places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park. You can even have some friends tag along!

4. Check out Free Sites

Even if you don’t pay for a pass to see national landmarks, there are countless sites you can visit for free. From the in D.C. to the French Quarter — which also has low cost hotels in New Orleans like Historic Streetcar Inn — there are definite stopping points that can be accessed on a shoestring budget.

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5. Bring Friends Along

If you’ve opted to see the country via automobile, one of the best ways to stay within your budget is to bring friends along. Not only will you get a better value on your Federal Recreation Pass, but you’ll also be able to split the cost of fuel and your lodging. Just imagine, for instance, how much more affordable a trip to The Big Apple would be if you weren’t footing the bill for New York hotels and taxis alone.

6. Utilize Travel Aggregation Sites

Online travel sites have become a popular way of saving money. Using travel aggregation sites like Hipmunk, which seek out the lowest prices from all the top travel sites, is an ideal way to save money on traveling.

7. Avoid Dining in When Eating Out

When you do opt to buy food from a restaurant, it’s best to place your order to go. This will minimize the necessity of tipping. Even if you find a cheap hotel in cities ranging from Chicago to El Paso, tipping can quickly wipe out the money you’re saving on a low-cost hotel.

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Traveling across the country doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. There are now many methods for saving on cross-country trips. Fortunately, this means great travels without breaking the bank.

 

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Generation Gap: What Your Age Says About How You Travel

The post below was originally published on Hipmunk’s Tailwind Blog on March 9, 2016.

https://i0.wp.com/wp-blog.hipmunk.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/millennial_travel_2016-blog-2-1.jpg?w=825By Hipmunk Staff

For the third year in a row, we polled US travelers of all ages to find out more about the travel habits and trends of the coveted millennials as well as gen Xers and boomers. Last year, we reported that millennial travelers were “cheap, plugged in and always looking for pleasure“. Guess what, not much has changed.

Always-connected, highly-mobile millennials are forging new norms for leisure and business travel, making technology, in-the-know experiences, and adrenaline-rush adventures—not cookie-cutter vacation packages—some of the most striking hallmarks of the way they explore and enjoy their world.

When they do hit the road, millennials see themselves as explorers, not tourists. They disproportionately favor vacation rentals over hotels, cities over beaches, and grab travel opportunities whenever they can, such as topping off business trips with leisure travel.

Hipmunk is built by and for younger travelers, and we understand their travel patterns better than anyone else.  Our site and app attract people who are younger, on average, than other big online travel brands. Here are five key takeaways from this year’s study.

https://i1.wp.com/wp-blog.hipmunk.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/millennial_travel_2016-3-1.jpg?w=10001) Mix Business With Pleasure, Please!

  • Millennials do more business travel than any other age group, and they take advantage while they can:
  • They work on the road. 38% of millennials travel for business, while just 23% of Gen Xers and 8% of boomers say they do.
    And will do so even more. 80% are going to travel more for work in 2016 than 2015 (compared to 60% and 45% of Gen Xers and boomers respectively)
    They stay in vacation rentals. Seventy-four percent of millennials have stayed at a vacation rental (such as those available through Airbnb) on a business trip, an experience shared by just 38% of Gen Xers and 20% of boomers.
    They perfected bleisure. 81% will probably add extra time to a business trip (compared to 56% and 46% of Gen Xers and boomers respectively).

Millennials already dominate business travel, and they’re doing it in a different way than the previous generation. ‘Bleisure’ may sound like a contagious disease, but it’s a real phenomenon, and millennials are making vacation rentals a viable option for their business trips.
2) Cut the Cord, But Not the Tube

  • Millennials’ astute use of the Internet and social connectivity informs their travel preparation, and how they live when they’re on the road. They edge out other generations in their desire to be connected. This generation is connected 24-7, and that’s clear in the way they treat every stage of their travel.
  • They’re savvy with travel tricks and tools. One-half of millennials say they’re “travel hackers”, meaning they know all of the best sites and methods to get the best travel deals, while just 26% of Gen Xers and 12% of boomers share that sentiment.
    They stay connected always, in all ways: Whether flying for business or pleasure, Wi-Fi is the coveted in-flight amenity (41% and 46% of millennials says it’s the most important amenity for leisure and business travel respectively, topping entertainment systems or premium economy). Fast, free Wi-Fi is the favorite hotel perk for leisure travel (cited by 28% of millennial respondents). And fully one in ten say Wi-Fi trouble is their worst travel nightmare, topping extreme turbulence, lost luggage or an emergency landing.
    They get travel ideas from social media. Forty-four percent of millennials get travel inspiration from YouTube videos and 28% from Instagram.  While just 18% of Gen Xers and 6% of boomers turn to YouTube, and 7% and 1% of Gen Xers and boomers to Instagram respectively.

3) Skip the Agony (and the security line)

  • Millennials will go the extra mile – or pay a little more – to remove friction points that make travel frustrating.
  • They’re more likely to use pre-check services like TSA/Clear: 31% of millennials say they’ll do so this year, vs. 24% of Gen Xers and 23% of boomers.
    They’d like to avoid the agony of a crying baby in flight. Half say they’d be willing to pay more for a child-free flight.

4) Bye-Bye Beach, Hello Bucket List!

  • The younger the traveler, the more likely he or she eschews the label of “tourist” when on the road, suggesting younger generations want to experience different cultures authentically, not just to observe them.  The study found that 38% of millennials surveyed consider themselves to be explorers rather than tourists, compared to 30% of Gen Xers and 24% of boomers.
  • And this year, millennials say they are planning monumental, remember-it-forever travel.
  • They’re ready for a big adventure. 65% of millennials claim they are checking something off their bucket list this year, compared to just 35% and 21% of Gen Xers and boomers respectively.
    They crave nature. While beach vacations and theme parks remain popular destinations across generations (37% of all respondents say they’ll head to the shore this year and 23% to Disneyland and its ilk), millennials seek out outdoor and activity-based trips more frequently.
    Thirty-four percent of millennials will enjoy Mother Nature’s company (e.g. camping or hiking), while only 27% and 16% of Gen Xers and boomers respectively will join them. And nearly one-in-five millennials (18%) will indulge in adventure sports like skydiving or snowboarding, a risk just 6% of Gen Xers and 1% of boomers plan to take.
    They’re ready to go anywhere, anytime. 75% have a valid passport from the United States and/or another country vs. 49% of Gen Xers and 40% of boomers.
    They cross the border. Sixty percent of millennials will take a vacation outside the United States this year, while just 33% of Gen Xers and 17% of boomers will go to another country.

5) 2016 Year of the Travel Optimist (and Airbnb)

This may well be the year of the travel optimist as more people report they plan to take their vacation days. Fifty-four percent of all generations say they are planning on traveling more this year than in 2015.  That percent hits a whopping 72 percent among just the millennial respondents, compared to 59% of Gen Xers and 40% of boomers.

It’s been widely reported that Americans don’t take enough vacation, and the Hipmunk survey confirmed that 30% of all people say they took no leisure trips last year. Nevertheless, 82% of millennials took time off for fun. Some seemed to have nothing but fun: 7% of millennials took 10+ leisure trips last year, compared to just 3% of the general population.

Millennials also lead the way in preferring vacation rentals over hotels. Forty-four percent of that generation would rather bunk down Airbnb-style on their leisure trips than drop anchor at a hotel; only 23% of Gen Xers and 11% of boomers agree. This preference extends to business travel.

These trends suggest that vacation rentals could eventually surpass hotel bookings amongst this age group, for both business and pleasure.

Survey Methodology: The survey was conducted on Hipmunk’s behalf by Market Cube between February 5 and 9, among 1650 adults (22% of respondents were aged 18 to 34).

 

Airlines Are (Finally) Offering High-End Food

The post below was originally published on Hipmunk’s  Tailwind blog on January 21, 2016.

While some airlines have distinguished themselves with awesome in-flight entertainment options or stellar amenities in first, business, and economy class, for the most part airline food has failed to keep up with these new high-end innovations. Until now.

That’s right: Airlines are officially improving their menus, especially on domestic flights. From using fresh ingredients, to offering healthier options, to recruiting talented chefs to revamp their menus, airlines are going out of their way to make their food better, reports USA Today.

It’s hard to say exactly why airlines have suddenly started to up their food game, but odds are good that the increasing presence of higher-end eateries in airports and consumer pressure are big factors. Airlines are finding that better food options result in higher online ratings and can offer a competitive edge in a review-happy marketplace. Here’s how that translates into better options for you.

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The Arrival of Better Food

Who benefits the most from improvements to airline food? Travelers, of course, in the form of fresher, more diverse, and more flavorful fare. Here’s an airline-by-airline preview of what hungry travelers can expect.

American Airlines

In an effort to provide healthier food options to passengers, American Airlines has added seasonal vegetables to its food options on several domestic, first-class flights. (The new dishes are inspired by restaurateur Sam Choy.) The airline is also in the process of revamping its first-class menus on other domestic flights by adding options like beef filet, shrimp and grits, and mac ‘n cheese. To top things off, American is featuring snacks from gourmet grocer Dean & Deluca—think raw almonds and spicy Cajun snack mix.

Alaska Airlines

In order to reflect and celebrate the airline’s home city of Seattle, Alaska Airlines now invites economy passengers to purchase Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches or other multi-ethnic offerings during their flights. The airline has also recruited acclaimed chef Tom Douglas to develop its hot meals (which are available for sale on any flight longer than 2 ½ hours), and works to source local ingredients from its many destinations.

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Delta Airlines

In November, Delta doubled the number of menu items offered to its first-class passengers on domestic flights. Entrée choices now include restaurant-worthy dishes such as grilled shrimp with roasted corn and tomato salad and lemongrass chicken with a Japanese Cobb salad. Delta is also upgrading its fare on transoceanic flights by introducing a seasonal rotation of menus influenced by various regions.

JetBlue

JetBlue is taking fresh in-flight food to a whole new level. The airline has gone so far as to open its own farm and garden at JFK’s Terminal Five, dubbed T5 Farm. The farm has been developed in partnership with GrowNYC, an NYC-based nonprofit that works to support the development of gardens and farmers markets throughout the city. The goal is for the farm to provide food that’s ultimately incorporated into the airline’s in-flight meal options, such as potato chips made from the farm’s own blue potatoes. In addition to potatoes, the farm will also grow herbs, leafy greens, carrots, and beets. If all goes according to plan, these items will make their way into JetBlue’s edible fare over the next few years.

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United Airlines

United has decided to offer fancier menu items, such as roasted duck and flatiron steak, in its first-class cabins. The airline is also using cage-free eggs in its economy-class entrees on domestic flights (as well as on international flights that depart from airports in the U.S.), and it’s attempting to add more flavor to its lunch and dinner options for first- and business class customers by infusing dishes with spices and aromatic herbs. To top things off, the airline has started to serve food in first-class cabins on a larger number of flights (even those that don’t take place over traditional meal times).

In addition to their custom initiatives, many of these airlines have also begun offering a healthier paid food option to passengers in the form of snack boxes. Delta’s Eat Tapas, JetBlue’s Pump Up box, and United’s Tapas Snackbox all contain hummus, crackers, olives, and perhaps some nuts. The airlines then put their own twist on the tapas concept by adding in supplements like pepper and artichoke dip (Delta) or roasted fava beans (JetBlue).

It’s not only U.S. carriers that are getting in on the action. Take just two international examples: Aer Lingus allows its passengers to pre-order traditional foods and meals, including Irish Breakfast. And British Airways is committed to offering a fresh snack or meal on every flight within Europe.

So rest easy, travelers: Your plane ride is likely to come with better food options in the (very) near future.

10 Less Well Known International Holidays

This post was posted by thehipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on April 5, 2016.

London and Prague? They’ve so been visited before.

If you’re searching for a vacation destination that’s a little off the beaten path, then look no further than these 10 less well known (but totally awesome) international locales.

1. Agadir, Morocco

It may be one of the best-kept travel secrets: The coastal town of Agadir boasts gorgeous sandy beaches, clear water, and summer temperatures in the 90s or even 100s—making it the perfect place to spend your whole vacation in the ocean. (If those high temps scare you off, simply visit in November or December, when the weather is a bit more temperate.) The prices are just as great as the setting—luxury accommodations start at as low as $100 per night, while more budget-friendly hotels offer rates starting at $18 per night.

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2. Cartagena, Colombia

Much like Agadir, Cartagena may be one of the most underappreciated beach towns around. The colonial city boasts historic architecture—including monasteries, palaces, and centuries-old walls—in addition to a rich culture and gorgeous beaches. Enjoy the view from a hotel balcony, a horse-drawn carriage, or the sand itself. Accommodations range from high-end luxury to budget-friendly hostels, meaning a relaxing vacation awaits any kind of traveler.

3. Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Looking to get away from it all? Then head to Kota Kinabalu, which is located in what is arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth. The city is surrounded by blue mountains, rich forests, and some of the best sunset viewing opportunities around. Stay in one of the area’s resort spas if you’re in need of some serious pampering, or take advantage of more utilitarian hotel offerings if you’re sticking to a tight budget. In either case, relaxation and gorgeous views await.

4. Marieta Islands, Mexico

You’ll need a permit to visit these protected fishing and hunting grounds, but the hassle will be well worth it. Formed in the past by volcanic activity, the small islands are now home to a stunning population of marine life, from humpback whales to manta rays, sea turtles, and dolphins. If you book a hotel in vibrant Puerto Vallarta, you’ll find yourself just an hour’s boat ride away from the pristine ecosystem.

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5. Montevideo, Uruguay

Think of Uruguay’s capital as Buenos Aires’ lesser known—but still wonderfully interesting—cousin. Montevideo boasts beachfront access, vibrant nightlife, art and museums, great food, and unique festivals (including Carnival, which lasts from January through March). Summer weather arrives in December and stays through February, so plan accordingly—if you’d prefer to avoid large beach crowds, plan a trip before Christmas or sometime in March or April. (Bonus: That’s when the ocean is warmest.)

6. Pasay City, Philippines

Here’s one for the city lovers. Densely populated Pasay City offers great shopping, high culture, a blend of Philippine and western customs, and the lovely weather and sunny disposition so common among island cities. Visitors to the city can book a coastal hotel or stay in the heart of downtown—it all comes down to whether you’d rather stare at gorgeous beaches or vibrant city life.

7. Postojna, Slovenia

Slovenia’s tourism trade has grown significantly in the past year or so, but it’s still making a name for itself as a well-known destination. Visitors to the country can experience a fusion of Italian, Croatian, Hungarian, and Austrian cultures—and one of the best places to do so is Postojna. In addition to its cultural offerings, the town boasts the historic Predjama Castle, one of the country’s longest caves, and some truly delicious food and wine.

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8. Riga, Latvia

Riga has earned tourist attention since being named a European Capital of Culture in 2014, but the city has hardly become a household name—which might explain why it also ranks high on the list of Europe’s cheapest destinations for budget-conscious backpackers. The weather is lovely in the summer, but you’ll be able to enjoy historic architecture, arts and culture (including the national opera), and great food and sightseeing opportunities all year round.

9. Singapore, Singapore

Singapore may be one of the more well-known names on this list, but odds are good most people still don’t know someone who’s vacationed there. Start the trend with a trip to the city-state of Singapore, Singapore. Colonial history, great food, a photo-worthy skyline, a thriving arts scene, a Formula One race track, gorgeous botanical gardens, and colorful neighborhoods such as Chinatown, Little India, and the hip Tiong Bahru all make Singapore stand out from the crowd.

10. Sintra, Portugal

Not far from Lisbon, Portugal’s popular capital city, lies the historic town of Sintra. Because of its 19th century Roman architectural monuments—which include prehistoric structures such as the Castle of the Moors and the National Palace of Pena—the town has earned the esteemed designation of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also don’t miss Quinta de Regaleira just outside of town. The estate includes a large park, historic chapels, and a network of underground tunnels (dubbed Initiation Wells) used for Tarot initiation rites.

The Best Global Cities to Blend Business and Pleasure

This post was posted by thehipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on April 14, 2016.

Business or leisure? Why not both? For those lucky enough to travel for business, we suggests turning business trips into mini vacations, or what some call “bleisure” trips. The cities below are known for their economic prowess as well as their entertainment dexterity, making them perfect for bleisure. With stunning skylines, rich cultural sites, wilderness centers and upbeat night scenes, these cities are the ideal places to blend business with more than just a dash of pleasure.

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1. Sao Paulo, Brazil

As the financial capital of Brazil, this concrete jungle of skyscrapers knows how to cater to business travelers with luxury hotels and fine restaurants. Sao Paulo also offers great antique markets and cultural institutes making it a great city to extend a business trip into a short vacation. The InterContinental Sao Paulo on Avenida Paulista makes it easy to get to meetings as well as the Sao Paulo Museum of Art, which has a fine collection of national and European art. On Sundays, an antique fair operates underneath the suspended museum’s open space. Leave the bustle behind and stay at George V Also De Pinheiros in Villa Magdalena, the bohemian area of Sao Paulo. Benedito Calixo square is sprawling with vendors of art, and handmade and antique treasures on Saturdays.

2. London, U.K.

With six international airports and the Eurostar high-speed rail service connecting London to the rest of Europe, the city is a must-stop for international business travelers. Stay a few days longer to partake in London’s rich history. It’s oldest financial district, often referred to as The City or The Square Mile, conveniently houses many of the must-see sights. St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Bank of England, the Museum of London, the Barbican Center, and 30 St. Mary Axe (better known as The Gherkin) are within walking distance. The modern Apex Temple Court Hotel is between the City and Covent Garden in the Theatre District. The Grange Tower Bridge resides near Jack the Ripper’s old haunts in the East End, which is now a trendy area filled with markets, bars and restaurants.

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3. New York City, New York

There’s no need to travel the world on business, when the business world congregates in New York. Forget the stereotypical Wall Street bankers, New York draws people for more than just work. The City has something for everyone: museums, on and off-Broadway shows, secret speakeasies, green spaces, fashion, and sports teams galore. The food selection is as diverse as its people with mini communities throughout the five boroughs representing much of the world’s cuisine. Stay at the W New York Times Square in the heart of all the action and spectacular views of the city and only a couple of stops from Central Park. Avoid the touristy scene altogether by staying at the Sixty on the border of East Village and the Lower East Side neighborhoods for an eclectic glimpse of New York.

4. Singapore

Singapore’s geographic location, top-tier AAA credit ratings, low taxes, and zero-tolerance for corruption make it a highly desirable place to do business. The 13.6 percent of public green spaces that occupy Singapore’s land mass makes it a great place to relax and escape the madness of city life. In 2015 the 202 acres that make up the Singapore Botanic Gardens, were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Just as impressive are Gardens by the Bay with 250 acres filled 500,000 species of plants, fountains and promenades. For more nature action visit the Singapore Zoo or go on a night safari to see animals in their natural habitat and experience a rainforest ecosystem. Stay at the lovely Sheraton Towers Singapore, which offers rooms with balconies opening directly to the pool.

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5. Tokyo, Japan

Trade and tourism make up Tokyo’s largest industry output with 18%, according to the Brooking’s Institute 2015 Global Metro Monitor Map. This city was made for business and pleasure. The Grand Hyatt Tokyo is in the center of Roppongi, known its night scene, which attracts both locals and foreigners. Karaoke is a favorite outing for locals and Tokyo knows how to do it right. The Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo offers four private karaoke rooms with incredible views of the city. Fashion is Tokyo’s forte so take time to explore the city’s array of eclectic styles. Head to the ward of Shibuya to check out the Harajuku district made famous by singer Gwen Stefani in her hit song Harajuku Girls where youths dress in mixed colorful styles of traditional dress, cosplay, Goth and more. Locals also strut their Harajuku Sunday best at the nearby Yoyogi Park near the Meiji Shrine, a forest spanning 170 acres.

How to See the Rainforest on a Budget

This post was posted by thehipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on March 31, 2016.

Most people hear the word “rainforest” and immediately picture the Brazilian Amazon or the lush jungles of Costa Rica. Not surprisingly, trips to these rainforest destinations are priced accordingly: Everybody knows about them, so trips are in high demand—and that means they can drive high prices.

If “visit a rainforest” is on your bucket list but you’re operating on a small budget, don’t despair. There are plenty of rainforests to see, and many of them reside outside the confines of the most popular (and pricey) tourist destinations. Here are five great options for anyone looking to visit the rainforest on a budget.

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Bolivia

While Brazil gets much of the attention for its Amazonian rainforests, the Amazon basin actually extends across several South American countries, many of which offer cheaper (and less crowded) rainforest tours. Bolivia falls into this category, and it offers two different types of tours: the pampas tours, which wind through a wetland savannah on the edge of the Amazon jungle and offer ample wildlife sightseeing opportunities, and jungle tours, which are a bit pricier but take travelers deeper into the rainforest. Whenever you’re ready for a shower, head out of the rainforest and into vibrant Santa Cruz.

British Columbia

US citizens can cut down on travel time and fees by taking a quick trip to our neighbor to the north. Canada’s British Columbia is home to the 25,000-square-mile Great Bear Rainforest, which is renowned for its wildlife (including, not surprisingly, its large population of bears) and stunning outdoor recreation opportunities. The rainforest isn’t too far from popular Vancouver and Whistler, BC, so you can balance urban and rainforest exploration in the course of the same trip.

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Peru

Peru is gradually building a reputation for itself as an eco-tourism destination, and for good reason: The country is home to the Manu Wilderness, which boasts a larger population of plants and animals than almost anywhere else on the planet. Jaguar, parrot, and giant otter sightings are common, so do not forget the camera. The rainforest isn’t far from Cusco; if you have the time, it’s also worth making the trek to lively and historic Lima.
Puerto Rico

Travelers from the US can save money on passport application or renewal fees by visiting El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. You’ll also save vacation time: It takes just under four hours and approximately $200 to fly from NYC to San Juan, which is only 30 miles from the rainforest. Once you arrive, walking tours of the tropical rainforest cost just $3 to $5. When you’ve had your fill of the jungle, soak up some rays on any of San Juan’s white sandy beaches.

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Seattle, Washington

Don’t feel like paying for an international flight? Then head to Seattle, which serves as a great jumping-off point to Olympic National Park. Spanning nearly a million acres, the park features unparalleled ecological diversity in the form of glacier-capped mountains, Pacific coastline, 3,500 miles of rivers and streams, and old-growth temperate rainforest. These ecosystems provide homes for over 70 species of mammals, 300 bird species, and 1,100 native plant species. The park is also distinguished as a World Heritage Site and an International Biosophere Reserve.