Posts in Guest Post

How to Avoid Getting Sick on Your Next Flight

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Forget snakes on a plane. Worry about the germs. Research shows that air travelers are at a higher risk for infection than people going about their daily lives.

Just how are illnesses spread on a plane? It comes down to two main factors: Airborne germs that are easily inhaled by people sitting in close quarters, or contact with germ-riddled surfaces on the plane. These factors are exacerbated by the dry conditions typical of airplanes, because viruses prefer low-humidity environments.

The good news is that, for the most part, airplanes’ air filtration systems function well enough that you’re unlikely to contract more serious illnesses. Instead, your greatest risk is contracting the common cold or a classic case of the flu.

While that’s all well and good, it may be little comfort to people who don’t particularly want to have a cold or the flu while trying to enjoy their vacation. Luckily, it is possible to decrease your risk of infection from germs on a plane. Here’s how to maximize the chances of disembarking the plane as healthy as you boarded it.

Don’t travel if you’re already sick.

If you know that you’re suffering from a contagious illness, do your immune system (and your fellow passengers) a favor and don’t expose yourself to any more germs by boarding a plane. In particular, the CDC advises that people avoid plane travel if you’re more than 36 weeks pregnant, have recently had surgery, have had a recent (serious) injury, or have a fever. In each of these cases, you’ll be traveling with a compromised immune system, which increases your risk of catching a contagious infection. Some airlines may be lenient with rescheduling fees if you can prove that you’re sick; contact the airline to discuss your options.

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Ask to switch seats.

If you find yourself beside someone who’s hacking or sniffling, it’s okay (really!) to ask a flight attendant if it’s possible to switch seats. Even moving just a few rows away can help protect you from a sick person’s germs. If there are no other seats on the plane, donning a face mask might help.

Wipe down germy surfaces.

Tray tables, armrests, and seat-back pockets are consistently found to be some of thegermiest parts of a plane. Minimize contact with these germs by using wet wipes to disinfect tray tables, armrests, and seat-back pockets and/or using hand sanitizer after touching any of these surfaces.

Wash your hands (a lot).

For the most part, your hands are your body’s primary point of contact with germy surfaces. Those germs (including cold and flu viruses) can survive on your skin for hours. The simple fix? Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or (in a pinch) with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Keep air vents open.

Circulating air is key to preventing the spread of illness on a plane, so keep the air vent above you open. And don’t worry—the air pumping through the vent is filtered and safe to breathe.

Bring your own blanket and pillow.

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that airlines tend to wash their blankets and pillows only every 5 to 30 days. (Yes, you read that right.) This means that when you borrow a blanket from the airline, you’re sharing a whole lot of germs. Avoid the issue entirely by bringing along your own travel blanket and pillow.

Close the toilet seat before you flush.

The spray that accompanies flushing spreads germs throughout the airplane bathroom; closing the lid before you flush will help you avoid contact with these nasty microorganisms. The flusher itself is also a hotbed of germs, so put a paper towel in between your hand and the flusher whenever you flush. And of course, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after using the loo.

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Stay hydrated.

The high elevations and low humidity typical of airplane travel have a dehydrating effect, which can provoke headaches, stomach problems, cramps, and fatigue, and diminish your immune system’s ability to fight off infections. The simple solution? Stay hydrated by regularly sipping water before, during, and after your flight. It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can contribute to dehydration.

There are a few caveats to this point, however. It’s best to avoid drinking the tap water available on airplanes, because airplane tap water has consistently been found to contain levels of bacteria well above U.S. government limits. Opt for bottled water instead. For a similar reason, be sure to ask for drinks sans ice—since many planes refill their ice tanks at foreign airports, the water standards may not be up to par with what you’re used to.

Moisturize your nasal membranes.

Cabin air tends to dry out our nasal membranes, which are the immune system’s main line of defense against incoming germs. Keep your immune system functioning at optimal capacity by using a nasal mist or saline nasal spray during the flight.

While all the immune-boosting strategies in the world can’t guarantee your health with absolute certainty, practicing these behaviors on every flight will give you the best chance of making it through a plane ride with your immune system unscathed.

[x_alert heading=”PLEASE NOTE: ” type=”muted”]This article was posted on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on January 22nd.[/x_alert]

The Wildest Plane Paint Jobs We’ve Ever Seen

Japanese airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) recently rolled out a Boeing 787 airplane painted from tip to tail with the likeness of Star Wars’ R2-D2. The airplane will carry its first lucky passengers beginning Oct. 18 with a flight between Tokyo and Vancouver, Canada. The project is part of a five-year promotional deal between ANA and the Walt Disney Company.

This is hardly the first time an airline has made headlines for dolling up its planes. These designs are typically part of publicity partnerships or are created to promote special events or anniversaries. Check out some of the wackiest paint jobs in airline history, below.

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Photo: Flickr user Mark Harkin 

Hobbit Plane, Air New Zealand

First on the list is the world’s largest plane decal, which reportedly took more than 400 hours to complete before it was released into the air in 2012. The Lord of the Rings-themed plane didn’t stop at the paint job. Inside, a hobbit-themed safety video featured characters from Middle Earth, while the cabin crew adorned themselves with pointy ears for the plane’s first flight.

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Photo: Flickr user Aero Icarus

San Francisco Plane, Swiss International Airlines

In 2010, Swiss International instated daily flights between Zurich and San Francisco. To celebrate the new route, the airline decorated a plane with just about every San Francisco stereotype around, from peace signs to flower power.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Flickr user Cubbie_n_vegas

Salmon, Alaska Airlines

Get it? A Boeing 737 becomes a Boeing salmon-thirty-salmon in this 2005 fish-themed paint job. The inspiration for the artwork is a bit unclear: Some sources claim it was designed to celebrate Alaska’s seafood industry, while others believe it stemmed from a 1987 incident in which an Alaska Airlines plane was hit by a fishwhile taking off in Juneau (The fish was purportedly dropped by an eagle).

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Aboriginal Design, Qantas

A collaboration between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists, the design for this Boeing 737-800 was inspired by Uluru, aka Ayers Rock. The Australian World Heritage site is famous for its rich colors, which appear to change as the sun’s angle shifts throughout the day.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Wizarding World Plane, Virgin Atlantic Airways

What a magical  idea. In partnership with Virgin Holidays, Virgin Atlantic branded one of its 747 jets with the logo for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The paint job functioned as publicity for the Universal Orlando resort.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Panda Jet, All Nippon Airways

To celebrate 20 years of flying between Japan and China, ANA unveiled its panda-themed jet in 2007. It reportedly took 350 people a total of 80 hours to plaster the image of the world’s cutest bear onto the jet.

Whether you’re flying to TokyoVancouver, or anywhere in between, may the force (and sweet paint jobs) always be with you.
[x_alert heading=”PLEASE NOTE: ” type=”muted”]This article was posted on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on January 18th.[/x_alert]

Escape Dreary Weather with These Winter Surfing Destinations

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With an unseasonably warm December finally giving way to arctic-level temperatures in January, it might be time to plan a winter getaway and rediscover the sun and sand. Escape the threat of snow by heading to one of the five destinations below, known as some of the best surf spots during the winter months!

1. San Diego, CA: Black’s Beach

San Diego’s Black’s Beach is a secluded, two mile beach situated at the base of 300 foot cliffs (where you can often spot hang gliders floating above, adding to the excitement!). The cliffs are part of the beautiful Torrey Pines, one of the wildest stretches of land in Southern California. Black’s Beach boasts one of the most powerful surf breaks in Southern California, with exceptionally strong waves. Due to the large surf, fast waves and crowds, Black’s Beach is best tackled by more advanced surfers. Visitors to the area should check out the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina or the Bahia Resort Hotel, both competitively priced and located near the beach.

2. Kauai, HI: Hanalei Beach

The Hawaiian island of Kauai, known as the “Garden Isle” for its tropical rainforests, is home to Hanalei Beach. Hanalei, a two-mile beach with white stands, is both a romantic paradise and a world-class surfing destination. The best surf season is a fairly long one, from September to May, so it’s the perfect place to check out in the winter. The beach is a great option for surfers of all levels as the current is study and the waves break evenly. Kaui Shores and Waipouli Beach Resorts & Spa by Outriggerare decently priced yet upscale hotel options for visitors, both located just a 40 minute drive from Hanalei.

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3. Rincon, Puerto Rico: Rincon Beach

For budget-conscious travelers, Rincon Beach, located on the northwestern coast of Puerto Rico, is an inexpensive surf destination boasting great waves.The island itself offers unparalleled beauty, with the clear water, white sand beaches, and palm trees, making it the perfect place to forget about snow! Rincon offers waves for all levels, with the gentle Caribbean providing softer swells while the Atlantic produces tougher waves for more advanced surfers. Those wishing to stay in the undisputed surfing capital of the Caribbean should consider the Rincon Beach Resort or the Case Verde Hotel, offering laid-back luxury at hard to beat prices.

4. Queensland, Australia: The Gold Coast

Those willing to travel Down Under for their winter surfing fix should explore the steady waves of Australia’s Gold Coast. Host to the Association of Surfing Professional Tour, the beach is a haven for fans of the sport. Early birds will enjoy mornings, when waves nearly always come in. The fun continues all day as well, as the southern stretch of the Gold Coast offers some of the longest rideable waves worldwide. Visitors have many options for lodgings, but the Crowne Plaza Surfer’s Paradise and the Mantra on View Hotel are affordable options catering specifically to out-of-towners looking to ride the waves.

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5. Bathsheba, Barbados: The Soup Bowl

Home to the Atlantic’s most consistent surf, the eastern part of Barbados offers a constant swell and endless routes, making it a great option for surfers looking for new challenges. The Soup Bowl, so named for its foamy surf, is an always rideable reef break popular with both locals and visitors. It’s best for surfers who don’t mind crowds, as the consistent swells mean there’s always someone around. Visitors should try staying in the Crystal Cove All Inclusive Resort or the Atlantis Hotel, both just a quick 30 minute drive from the beach.
[x_alert heading=”PLEASE NOTE: ” type=”muted”]This article was posted on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on January 19th.[/x_alert]

European Airports Are Getting a Whole Lot Greener

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As world leaders convene in Paris for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21), Europe’s aviation industry is also thinking about how to reduce its eco-footprint. Specifically, industry representatives have pledged to increase the number of carbon-neutral airports in Europe to 50 by the year 2030.

The announcement comes at a time when other factions of the travel industry are also hopping on board the environmentally conscious train. Around the world, a wide variety of hotels have adopted eco-friendly initiatives; some hotels have even made it a core part of their mission to provide environmentally sound accommodations. Meanwhile, many individual travelers are embracing sustainable and eco-friendly tourism, while others choose to offset their carbon emissions every time they fly.

Not to be eclipsed, the aviation industry is adopting an increasingly serious approach to climate change. Here’s how the airport sector is doing its part.

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A Pressing Need

The need for the aviation industry to make good on its promises of carbon neutrality is clear. Research from the European Commission has found that large airports consume as much electricity and thermal energy as a city of 100,000 people. (And that’s not even taking into account the environmental cost of flying planes once they’ve left the airports.) Up to 50 percent of that energy is consumed by airports’ heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

The industry’s newest commitment builds on the industry’s goal (established in June 2008) of ultimately making all European airports carbon neutral. Toward that end, the industry adopted a carbon management standard—dubbed the Airport Carbon Accreditation program—in June 2009.

The industry has already made some progress toward its carbon-neutrality goals. To date, 93 European airports—which together account for 64 percent of the annual traffic through European airports—have been certified under Airport Carbon Accreditation. Out of these, 20 are already carbon neutral. Popular Amsterdam andVenice airports fall into this category.

All told, there are approximately 500 airports located throughout Europe—so while a goal of 50 carbon-neutral airports is laudable, here’s hoping it’s just the beginning of the aviation industry’s commitment to going green.

The good news is that airports outside of Europe have also started to express interest in achieving carbon neutrality. So far, 137 airports—which together represent 31 percent of the world’s plane passenger traffic—around the world have been certified under Airport Carbon Accreditation.

And then there’s what may be the greenest airport on the planet: Galapagos Ecological, which serves approximately 300,000 passengers a year and is the only airport to operate exclusively on solar and wind power. In order to do so, the airport only operates during the day and relies on high-tech photovoltaic panels to generate solar energy.

Here’s hoping that all these efforts to go green keep our skies a healthy blue.

[x_alert heading=”PLEASE NOTE: ” type=”muted”]This article was posted on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on January 13th.[/x_alert]

A Guide on Wheelchair Travel at Airports

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If you’re traveling with a wheelchair by air for the first time, the wheelchair services at airports are pretty standard. Most of the time, you will be able to use your wheelchair all the way through to boarding until you’re seated in the first couple of rows with your chair stored nearby, though if you prefer to check it in, an attendant will assist you in transport around the airport and with boarding, with another attendant readily available to assist you upon your arrival.

Whether you are flying alone or with a companion, it’s highly recommended that you send your wheelchair to a repair shop for maintenance beforehand to ensure it’s in good shape prior to your trip. 1800Wheelchair also suggests bringing a travel size repair kit that’s filled with all the necessary items needed to replace a pneumatic tire, and these repair kits can easily be purchased at any major bike retailers and department stores. Although airports do have their own sets of wheelchairs and a maintenance station, you need to take all the necessary precautions.

Depending on the carrier, some airlines charge extra for specialized services. Parking4Less explains that some require a fee for online check-in and priority boarding, while others charge a little more for deluxe escort and assistance services. Airports and airlines are bound by law to provide wheelchair assistance for free, but passengers will have to pay a certain fee for motorized carts regardless if they are disabled or not. With American Airlines, the cost can range between $125 to $275 for one passenger, plus $75 per additional adult and $50 per additional child. The service also grants the passengers access to its Admiral Club lounges.

In terms of the best airlines that provide the best wheelchair assistance, Disability Travel shares that it all depends on the airport staff, and the airline crew and staff that are on duty during your time of travel. The best you can do is come prepared to face any situation.

4 Epic Cabin Vacations in North America

Forget all-inclusives, four-star hotels, and budget-friendly hostels. Luxurious cabins are now the new traveler’s dream, and they’re popping up all around the world for anyone with a wanderlust itch.

The growth in our cabin obsession is in part thanks to the recent explosion of Cabin Porn, a tumblr of user-sourced cabins that was recently turned into a book. That said, not all cabins are designed for to be a minimalist’s dream; one enthusiast spent $12.5 million to build a dream cabin equipped with six bedrooms, a media room, and 10-foot fireplace. Other epic log-cabins are turned into resorts after millions of dollars are put into their construction.

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From simplistic to chic, here are a few of our favorite cabins in North America that all include rustic flair.

Luxury Log Cabins — British Columbia, Canada

Want to stay in a place tucked away against glacier-fed streams in the heart of the Canadian Rockies? Who wouldn’t? These majestic rocky mountain luxury cabins are as beautiful on the inside as their surroundings are on the outside. (Think: rugged pines, soaring peaks, peaceful creeks, and an array of hiking, fishing, and canoeing options.) The rooms themselves range from simple twins to premier group houses, and all come with complimentary breakfast and group hikes. The lodge is 125 miles away from Calgary, so after a night at the Carriage House Inn (rooms are under $100!) rent a car and head to the mountains.

Park Lodges — Grand Canyon, Arizona

 

Not only are the views in the Grand Canyon epic; the places to stay can be, too! This beautiful park also has awesome lodging options, including the Grand Canyon Lodge—the only place to stay in the park’s Northern Rim. The lodges are within easy walking distance to the canyon rim, and all it takes is a peek out the bedroom window for incredible panoramic views of the park. Flights to Phoenix are easy to find, and then it’s recommended to rent a car for the drive to the Grand Canyon—a little over 200 miles north.

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Urban Treehouse — Brooklyn, New York

In the heart of the concrete jungle, Brooklyn never stops surprising us. While this treehouse isn’t available for rent, it’s an urban explorer’s must-see, and luckily there are many hotels nearby so people have a place to stay. The owner built this small tree house behind her apartment in Bedstuy, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, all with a modest $400 budget. In many ways, the style screams “New Orleans,” using bohemian elements of wood and tin and anchored on a mulberry tree.

Cedar Cabins by the Sea — Santa Barbara, California

Southern California has more to offer than beach babes and surfer dudes. Stay in one of El Capitan Canyon’s rustic cedar cabins for a different type of sleeping experience steps away from the Pacific Ocean. Treat yourself to a luxury cabin, or choose a slightly more authentic experience in one of their safari tents (don’t worry—they still have beds!). Guests can spend the day hiking, swimming, horseback riding, or wine tasting before nestling back into their nature hideaway. There are trains, buses, and airbuses from LAX to Santa Barbara, and all trips take only a bit over two hours to reach this majestic beachside town.

NOTE: This article was posted on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on December 14th.

Tips, Tricks, and Hacks for Staying Productive on Long Flights

The lure of in-flight entertainment systems and bad magazines make it easy to drift into a lazy stupor on airplane trips. For fliers looking to boost their next trip’s productivity, here are the best strategies for tackling your to-do list.

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The Day Before

  1. Reserve a seat. At check-in, choose a seat option that will contribute to YOUR productivity. Everyone’s preference is different: Some travelers prefer an aisle seat so that they can get up and stretch mid-flight, while others go for a window seat where they won’t be disturbed by other passengers getting up and down.
  2. Plan on not having internet access. Yes, some airlines offer in-flight access, but it’s unreliable at best. Choose projects that won’t require an internet hookup, or invest in a personal hotspot to use in the airport and the gate area for a few extra minutes online.
  3. Download all necessary materials. To maximize productivity, make sure all project-related documents and emails are downloaded to a laptop or tablet so that they can be referenced in-flight. Long flights are a great opportunity to write emails offline and then send them after landing.
  4. Charge devices. Nothing can ruin good intentions quite like running out of laptop battery right after takeoff. Make sure all devices are fully charged. It also never hurts to bring back-up batteries, just in case.
  • Bring noise-cancelling headphones. Work travelers can insulate themselves from engine noise and crying babies with a good pair of headphones. Whether they’re piping in music or just blocking out the sounds of the plane, they’ll help with focus and relaxation.
  • Write your to-do list early. Take 10 minutes to write down and prioritize your to-do list the day before. Fumbling through priorities while in flight is an easy gateway to procrastination. Plus, checking items off a list is satisfying and will create a feeling of accomplishment on landing.

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At the Airport

  1. Upgrade. Upgrading to business class comes with two major productivity boosts: more workroom on the flight itself and (on many airlines) access to an airport lounge. The business class cabin will be quieter and more comfortable than economy, and the added room allows travelers to spread out papers and documents at will. And at the airport before boarding or during connections, airport lounges offer luxurious escape from the crowded and noisy gate area. Lounge access often comes with a business class upgrade, but frequent travelers can also use elite status to gain entry. Lucky travelers can relax in the Lufthansa first class lounge in Frankfurt or the Etihad Airways lounge in Abu Dhabi, two of the most luxurious in the world.
  2. Drink smart. Air travel can exacerbate dehydration, which contributes to jet lag and a major drop in productivity. Drink 8 oz of water every hour on flights to stay hydrated, and avoid overindulging in booze. Especially on long haul flights, bringing moisturizer, saline nasal spray, and eye drops will prevent dryness and make the trip more comfortable.

On the Plane

  1. Distribute luggage. To maximize legroom, put as much as possible in the overhead bin when boarding the flight. Remove work essentials and put them in a smaller collapsible bag under the seat so they’ll be at hand whenever they’re needed.
  2. Divide and conquer. Break a long flight time into chunks to make tasks seem more manageable and to allow for rest. Set a phone timer that will vibrate as a reminder to work for one hour and then take a half hour break, for example. If you’re motivated by a schedule and with set break times to look forward to, the flight time will pass quickly and easily.
  3. Take advantage of a new work space. Some travelers may appreciate the lack of distractions that working in the clouds provides. Use the time to finish some busy work out of the noisy office, or rise above the mundane and brainstorm big projects or ideas.
  • Treat yourself. Whether it’s with a favorite sweet treat or an in-flight movie, make sure to carve out a little enjoyment from a work-oriented trip. The goal is to have a flight that’s productive, not stressful, and to arrive at the destination calm and ready for the next task.

NOTE: This article was posted on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on December 12th.

The U.S. Finally Has a World Heritage City

It’s been a big year for Philadelphia.

First, Pope Francis paid a visit. Now, the City of Brotherly Love just earned a very prestigious designation: Philadelphia is officially the United States’ first World Heritage City.

While there are 23 World Heritage Sites in the U.S. (including one recently designated in Texas), this marks the first time that an entire U.S. city has earned the distinction. Not surprisingly, Philadelphia plans to market its new designation for all it’s worth.

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A Designation Years in the Making

The result of a two-year campaign, the city formally earned its World Heritage recognition earlier this month, reports Travel Pulse. Philly will join 266 other cities—including Cairo, Jerusalem, Paris, and Prague—currently recognizedby the organization.

Each World Heritage City is recognized for its impact on the world and must be home to at least one UNESCO World Heritage Site. Philadelphia’s Independence Hall was designated a UNESCO heritage site in 1979 to celebrate the fact that both the United States’ Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed there.

The effort to earn Philadelphia its World Heritage designation was led by a cohort of government, business, and community leaders. They advocated for World Heritage recognition on the grounds that Philadelphia played a pivotal role in the development of today’s United States and continues to contribute to the global culture and marketplace. The city was approved as an “Observer Member” of the Organization of World Heritage Cities in 2013, and officials applied for full membership earlier this year.

Celebrating the Past, Looking toward the Future

With World Heritage designation achieved, officials hope to capitalize on Philly’s newfound prestige in order to grow tourism and commerce in the city. The team placed in charge of this strategic development has outlined three primary goals:

  • To promote the preservation of the city’s geographical, historical, and cultural heritage through educational programming
  • To use the designation as a driver for economic and cultural growth by attracting more people interested in visiting, investing, working, studying, and living in the city
  • To inspire pride in Philadelphia citizens

To that end, the team plans to implement a public engagement campaign, partner with other organizations to develop Philadelphia’s “brand recognition” on a global scale, develop educational programming targeted toward Philadelphia citizens and visitors, partner with other World Heritage Cities around the world to grow and elevate Philadelphia’s reputation on the international stage, and advocate for the designation of additional UNESCO sites within greater Philadelphia.

The results of these efforts have the potential to attract an additional 60,000 to 100,000 international tourists each year, to the tune of an extra $150 million in expanded economic activity. Meanwhile, the designation is expected to increase domestic tourism by an additional 1 or 2 percent—or an additional $100 to $200 million annually.

The city also expects to cultivate a variety of partnerships with the other 266 World Heritage cities around the world by developing programs such as university exchanges, research collaboration, and business partnerships. As a result of its designation, Philadelphia will also be able to access resources designed to help the city sustain and promote its heritage.

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Paying a Visit

While the World Heritage designation is a justifiable point of pride for the City of Brotherly Love, it only tells us what we already know: Philadelphia is a great place to visit. From kid-friendly attractions, to eclectic neighborhoods, to its thriving art, music, nightlife, and restaurant scenes, Philadelphia offers a wealth of attractions for tourists of every age and persuasion.

Stay in the heart of it all at the luxurious Palomar Philadelphia, the budget-friendly Rodeway Inn, the historic and distinguished Hyatt at the Bellevue, or any of the city’s other excellent hotels. No matter where you stay and when you go, exciting history and culture await any traveler to the United States’ first World Heritage City.

NOTE: This article was posted on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on December 6th.

These Mountain Museums Are Worth the Trek

On the Austrian border of Italy, high in the mountains, sit six distinct museums. Together, the museums comprise the Messner Mountain Museum(MMM) experience—an homage to mountains and mountain culture situated at six remarkable sites located throughout South Tyrol and Belluno. For those daring enough to make the trek, each museum can be accessed by (appropriately) climbing the mountain on which it resides. We think you’ll agree that seeing these museums in person is worth the effort it takes to get to them.

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The Messner Mountain Museum Experience

The MMM is the brainchild of world renowned mountain climber Reinhold Messner. Now in his 70s, the climber has spent more than a decadedeveloping the six museums, each of which embraces a different theme pertaining to mountains and/or mountain climbing.

The first museum opened in 1995, while the most recent museum opened to tourists in July 2015. Each of the museums features interdisciplinary exhibits that blend art and natural science while celebrating the surrounding scenery. Oh, and in case you were worried? They’re all accessible by car as well as by foot.

Here’s what you can expect from each locale:

  • Corones. Located on the summit plateau of Kronplatz mountain between the Puster and Gader Valleys, MMM Corones is all about the discipline of mountaineering. Through presentations of relics, written musings, and visual art, the museum explores 250 years of mountaineering history, highlights the perspectives of philosophers and pioneers of the sport, and explores alpinism’s modern equipment and traditions. The building itself offers striking views of the Dolomites and the Alps. The most recently constructed of all six of the museums, Messner swears it will be the last.
  • . Dubbed “The Museum in the Clouds,” the MMM Dolomites is all about celebrating rock and the vertical worlds it creates. Located on a mountaintop plateau on Monte Rite, the museum boasts 360-degree panorama views of some of the Dolomites’ most stunning mountains, including Monte Schiara, Monte Civetta, and Monte Pelmo. The museum’s displays illustrate humans’ first attempts to ascend the Dolomites and feature historical and contemporary paintings of the mountains.
  • Firmian. The centerpiece of the MMM experience, MMM Firmian explores humanity’s relationship with the mountains through art, installations, and relics. Set between the peaks of the Schlern and Texel mountain ranges, the museum is located in the historic (and refurbished) Sigmundskron Castle, which overlooks the Etsch and Eisack rivers.
  • Juval. The first of the MMM museums, MMM Juval is devoted to the “magic of the mountain.” To that end, the museum features fine art collections devoted to showcasing mountains in all their splendor, including a gallery of paintings of the world’s holiest mountains and a collection of masks from five continents. The museum—which is located in the historic Juval Castle in Vinschgau—also includes a mountain zoo, home-grown produce, and a selection of fine wines.
  • Ortles. At MMM Ortles, it’s all about the ice. Located in an underground structure in Sulden am Ortler, the museum’s exhibits are devoted to exploring “the end of the world” through themes of skiing, ice climbing, and expedition to the poles. The museum explores the evolution of ice climbing gear over the last two centuries, educates visitors about the power of avalanches, and features artwork depicting ice in all its terror and beauty.
  • Ripa. The heritage of people who live in the mountains is on display at MMM Ripa, which is located in historic Bruneck Castle on a hillside in South Tyrol’s Puster Valley. The museum celebrates the cultures, religions, dwellings, and daily lives of mountain cultures from Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe. Ripa is surrounded by mountain farms and boasts views of the Ahrn Valley and the Zillertal Alps.

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A visit to any or all of these museums will entertain mountain lovers and curious tourists alike. Visitors can purchase tickets to each museum individually or buy a tour ticket that includes entry to all six museums. If traveling by car, you’ll be able to visit all six of the museums over the course of three or four days. If you want to hike to each of the museums, you’ll need to plan a longer trip. None of the hikes are shorter than two hours, while climbing to MMM Corones will take upwards of 6.5 hours and hiking up to MMM Ortles will take around 12.5 hours over the course of two days. The energy and time you devote to the climbs will be rewarded in the form of some of the most beautiful scenery around.

If you’re already in Italy, it’s also worth driving the three hours to the cities of Milano or Bologna, both which offer a whole different kind of cultural experience (think fashion, food, and gorgeous architecture everywhere you look). As its combination of striking natural beauty and urban culture proves, Italy should be on every traveler’s bucket list.

NOTE: This article was posted on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on December 5th.

Stock Up on Extra Passport Pages Before December 31st

If your passport is filling up but its expiration date is still years away, it’s time to load up on extra pages, stat.

That’s because the United States Department of State plans to stop offering extra page inserts starting on January 1, 2016. The State Department announced its plan to discontinue the 24-page inserts for passport books this past March. The decision comes as the result of increased security measures and the need to comply with international passport standards.

Here’s what to expect once the new rule goes into effect: In lieu of ordering extra pages, travelers who fill up their passport before its expiration will be required to purchase a new passport for $110, reports Travel Pulse.

The silver lining is that anyone ordering a new passport will be able to choose between a book with 28 pages or a book with 52 pages—while the latter option may be bulkier, it’ll save frequent fliers from needing to purchase a new passport quite as often. (Prior to this change, all passports were issued with a standard 28 pages.)

Want to avoid purchasing a new passport? Then request additional pages before December 31 of this year. The 24-page insert will cost you $82. Order before November 30, and the State Department will guarantee you faster processing times than anyone who orders a new passport or pages after that date. (The department’s busiest months are January through August.) For more information on ordering, check out the State Department’s website.

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No Other Changes on the Horizon

So far, the cancellation of additional page inserts is the only significant change to passports and passport processing announced by the State Department. Otherwise, the general rules about passports will remain the same:

Passports issued to people over the age of 16 are valid for 10 years, while passports issued to children aged 15 or younger are valid for five years.
If your passport expires before a visa does, you won’t need to purchase a new visa—simply bring your old, stamped passport along with your new one to present at customs.
Some countries require that a passport be valid for at least six months beyond the time of a trip, and some airlines will not let you board if your passport expires within six months. Other countries may require that your passport have at least two blank pages in order for you to enter the country. Review the entry/exit requirements for your destination to learn more.
If your passport has suffered significant damage, you’ll need to apply for a new passport (Note: Normal wear and tear doesn’t qualify as “damage”).
If you have any questions about passports or passport renewal, contact the State Department.
The main takeaway here? If you want to save $28, skip a bunch of paperwork, and avoid another cringe-worthy photo, order some extra passport pages before the end of the year. Otherwise, make your travel plans as usual (and be prepared to buy a new passport once your current one fills up).

 

NOTE: This article was posted on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on December 4th.