Archives for USA Today Travel

Bucket List Bars: Places to drink at before you die

by Candyce Stapen, USA TODAY, 11:52 am EDT September 17,2013

Discover 40 of America's iconic bars in 12 cities

Discover 40 of America’s iconic bars in 12 cities.

Bucket List Bars: Historic Saloons, Pubs and Dives of America, a new entry in the popular must-do-before-death genre, aims to reveal a city’s character, including its past, by pointing thirsty travelers—business or leisure– to 40 “authentic” drinking places in 12 cities– New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Denver, Tucson, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Authors Clint Lanier and Derek Hembree, friends and drinking buddies since college, choose their bars based on history and patrons.

“Each of us believes that the soul of a neighborhood is its local bars,” says Lanier, an assistant professor of English at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico. “We want all travelers to get out of their hotels, away from the faux-Irish pubs dotting the nation and into the places where the locals drink and history has been made.”

To help visitors make the most of their nights-out, Lanier and Hembree’s brew mixes a summary of each bar’s past, and a signature drink list with a current description, and garnishes with QR codes that link to videos so that potential patrons can eyeball the place.

A Denver pick, the Buckhorn Exchange, dates to 1893 and, the authors admit, receives more notice for its steak, Rocky Mountain oysters (bull testicles) and game than for its drinks. But Teddy Roosevelt and Buffalo Bill Cody were among the era’s notables who bellied up to the carved oak bar. Cody, told by his doctor to limit alcohol, sipped tall glasses of rye whiskey and apple cider on the rocks. The current Buckhorn version mixes bourbon with apple juice.

Among Lanier’s favorite bars is Chicago’s Green Mill. Opened in 1910 as the answer to Paris’ Moulin Rouge (Red Mill), the Green Mill originally featured dancing girls, a ballroom, a restaurant and live music. Downsized during Prohibition, the place became the favorite speakeasy of gangster Al Capone.

“After Prohibition the bar went legit and quickly became one of the best jazz clubs in the U.S.,” says Lanier. “Today the layout remains the same as it was…with little or no change in the décor. Drop by almost any night of the week, grab a seat in Al Capone’s booth, order up a gin martini and be whisked away to the roaring twenties.”

Such choices make the typical hotel bar seem blasé.

Details: Bucket List Bars: Historic Saloons, Pubs and Dives of America (Austin, TX: Emerald Book Company, 2013), $16.95.


Fall Thrill Seekers

Facebook envy ups the ante for fall thrill seekers

by Candyce Stapen, USA TODAY, 9:19 pm EDT September 12, 2013

See fall colors soaring above Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.

See fall colors soaring above Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Although a quiet walk through dappled woods on a crisp fall day is nice, a forest stroll lacks the excitement to spark a series of “wows” from one’s social media friends and followers. But taking in the fall colors via biplane, zipline, hot air balloon or raft delivers thrill-worthy posts almost guaranteed to get “likes.”

“If you are going to keep on, you have to change with the times,” says Mary White founder of BnBFinder, a search engine for bed and breakfasts worldwide. “We all have Facebook pages and we want really cool photos on our pages. When you have younger travelers, they want more than just a getaway. They want to create an experience and take it to the next level. They want to add excitement.”

Facebook envy is powerful. To meet the needs of those seeking to bask in its glow, savvy lodgings, from small bed and breakfasts to major hotel chains, are adding adventures, even to such formerly tranquil getaways as leaf-peeping weekends. Listed below are foliage outings whose heart-pumping adrenaline rushes just might make your followers jealous.

Biplane flights, Orange, Va.

From the open-cockpit of your piloted biplane, see the Blue Ridge Mountains billow with reds, oranges and yellows and watch the sun glint off the Shenandoah River. The one-hour flight aboard the three-seater, 1942 Waco ZPF-7 makes you feel like a World War II ace. Afterward, wrap your complimentary white silk aviator scarf around your neck as a badge of honor, and relax in front of the fire at the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast, a circa 1830, historic home with six guest bedrooms.

Details: $850 package for two includes two nights lodging with breakfast, biplane ride for two, plus two silk scarves. Holladay House, Blue Ridge Biplane Rides.

Ziplines, Hollister, Mo.

Take in the Ozark Mountains as you whoop and holler on Vigilante Extreme Ziprider at 50-mph. At its highest point, the zipline perches you 170-feet above the hillsides. Take in more views from the blufftop Cameron’s Crag Bed and Breakfast, a four-room lodging overlooking Lake Taneycomo and Branson, three miles away.

Details: from $125, including breakfast. Cameron’s Crag Bed and Breakfast, $29.95, Vigilante Extreme Ziprider

Hot-air balloons, Stowe, Vt.

Float in a hot air balloon above the classic New England panorama of white church steeples and mountain slopes blazing with reds, rusts and golds. At Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa, choose a bird’s-eye view of the Green Mountains while either tethered to the ground or wafting with the breeze. The AAA Four-Diamond resort has 120 guest rooms, 58 townhouses and a top-rated, 50,000-square-foot spa.

Details: Autumn Glow package: from $229 per night with a two-night minimum, includes daily breakfast, and 20% spa discount. Available Sundays through Thursdays through Oct. 31, 2013. Balloon flight or tether $525 for up to two people. Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa.

Rock climb, raft and zipline, Asheville, N.C.

Amp up your foliage fun by rock climbing, rafting or ziplining on a guided adventure with the Nantahala Outdoor Center, conveniently based at Asheville’s Omni Grove Park Inn. Nestled in the foothills of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the 100-year-old, AAA Four-Diamond property also offers golf and a spa.

Details: from $405 per night, double occupancy, includes breakfast buffet and half-day of rock climbing, rafting or ziplining. Omni Grove Park Inn & Spa.


Guilt trip: Pet travel can be stressful for people, too

by Candyce Stapen, USA TODAY

pet travelEver smuggle your dog or cat into your hotel? If so, you’re one of the pack. According to the first State of U.S. Pet Travel study conducted by, a home dog boarding registry, 15% of pet owners confess to sneaking their furry pals into no-four-paws allowed guest rooms, or even onto airplanes.

For pet parents, “guilt trip” can take on a new meaning. When not bringing along four-legged friends, 72% of people companions worry about the pets left behind at least some of the time, and 24% of people worry during all or most of their trips. Even when friends or family host the pups and kitties, 50% of owners feel bad requesting the stay.

The survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive, uncovers other pet-travel challenges. A majority — 75% — of the 2,341 respondents of whom 1,423 are pet owners, do not trust airlines to care for animals safely when they fly in a plane’s hold, whether as checked baggage or as cargo. Another bone of contention: 21% of pet lovers cite difficulties digging out pet-friendly lodgings or pet-friendly airlines.

Launched March 2012, combines Yelp-like, user reviews of vetted home-boarders with a booking engine.

Co-developer of the site Aaron Hirschhorn says “DogVacay was founded to create an alternative for traveling dog parents to board their pet in a loving home. We hope this survey will inspire more innovation in pet travel so that next year’s survey results will show even more improvement in options available to those traveling both with and without their pets.”

Tips for traveling with your Dog

Photo by H. Darr Beiser
Click on image to view the video

How to avoid stress during family holiday travel

The best way to minimize holiday travel hassles with your family: plan ahead. Whether you’re driving or flying, these tips will help you avoid stress.

by Candyce H. Stapen, special for USA TODAY

Traveling Family

Stock Photo

6:13p.m. EST December 5, 2012 – The best way to minimize holiday travel hassles: plan ahead. Even after you’ve locked down the cheapest airfares, plotted the easiest driving routes and lightened your load by mailing the presents, sweeten the festivities by following these stress-busters.

Getting There

Allow extra travel time. Don’t be a turkey and arrive late. For Thanksgiving 2012, AAA estimates more than 43.6 million Americans will head 50 miles or more from home, a 0.7% increase over 2011’s 43.3 million travelers. Factor in the crowded roads and slow moving lines at airports when calculating your travel schedule.

Keep essentials handy. More hours en route means you need extra batteries and electronic chargers so that your computers, video games and cell phones will last as long as your road trip. With babies on board, pack extra diapers, changes of clothing, food and bottles. Be sure that this bag is easily accessible in the car’s front seat (not the trunk) or as an airline carry-on (not as checked luggage).

Make “what if” plans. When meeting friends or relatives at a destination or at an airport, don’t rely only on cell phones. Go low tech too; just in case your phone dies or service isn’t available, develop a plan B on how to meet up and what to do in case of  missed connections.

Bring food and water. Like armies, families travel on their stomachs.  Healthy snacks and bottles of water and juice go a long way toward quashing the crankies. When flying, allow additional time in the terminal to purchase sandwiches and drinks to take on board.

Plane Tips

Check-in at the airport early. Be aware that the airline may reassign reserved seats if you haven’t obtained boarding passes 30 minutes before departure. If you fail to show up at the gate within 10 minutes of scheduled take-off, the airline may cancel your reservation. See more tips at

Know your rights if bumped. Getting involuntarily bumped is relatively rare.  According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, about one passenger in every 10,000 suffers that fate because of an oversold flight. During the busy holiday travel season, however, volunteers to take later flights may be in short supply.  Although there are exceptions, if bumped and delayed between one and two hours on a domestic flight, you may receive compensation equal to double the price of your ticket up to $650.  If your delay is longer, payments may be four times the value of your ticket up to $1,300.  Read the fine print at

Understand options for delayed or canceled flights. For these situations, unlike being bumped, there are no federal compensation requirements. Instead, each airline determines whether to offer meal vouchers or other reimbursements. Salvage your trip by being savvy. While lining up at the ticket counter for a new flight, call the airline’s reservations number on your cell phone as this might be quicker. If a blizzard closes the entire airport, don’t leave the facility until you have a confirmed flight out even if it’s several days away. Also, ask to be wait-listed on several, earlier flights. Then, when the airport reopens, show up with your bags in case better connections become available.  Check out

Car Logic

Stow emergency gear. Be prepared for car problems and bad weather by equipping your car with jumper cables, flashlights, extra batteries, a first-aid kit, ice scraper and blankets; thermal reflective blankets are thin, moderately priced and effective at retaining body heat.

Click USA to read the article.


Easing family air travel for the holidays

Air travel with your family during the holidays can be stressful and challenging. Here are tips to ease the pain.

by Candyce H. Stapen, special for USA TODAY

Airtravel passenger waiting to check in

Photo from stock

7:40PM EDT October 30, 2012 – If the best thing about the holidays is celebrating with friends and family, then the most difficult tasks may be making your way through the crunch of airport passengers and the maze of carrier fees and regulations. Until we can fly by saying “Beam me up, Scotty,” consider these tips for easing air travel.

Plane Sense

Use a smaller airport. Regional airports, as opposed to major hubs, come with the conveniences of easier parking, fewer crowds as well as shorter check-in and security lines. These advantages can outweigh any added drive time required to get from the gate to your downtown destination. To visit Boston, for example, consider landing at Manchester Boston Regional, Manchester, N.H., 50 miles north of the city instead of at Logan International.

Book tickets early. To get the best fares and connections plus seats next to your children without paying for prime spots, purchase tickets as far in advance as possible. Flying on non-stop or through flights (no change of plane required after a layover) eliminates missed connections.

Travel on less busy days. While houses may be quiet the night before Christmas and Thanksgiving, airports are packed. Escape the thickest throngs by flying on Thanksgiving and Christmas days, an especially good solution when landings allow you to arrive in time for the turkey dinner.

Factor in luggage fees when comparing fares. More and more airlines tack on charges for checked luggage, typically $25 for the first piece and $35 or more for the second. A family of four who manages to pack their holiday clothing and gifts into one suitcase per person can pay $100+ each way for checked bags. On JetBlue, for example, the first checked bag is free, but the second costs $40. On Southwest, two bags fly free. Sites such as offer handy luggage charts.

Lessen bag charges. Loyalty pays off: Use credit cards and take advantage of airline club memberships that cover luggage fees. When flying Delta and charging tickets to a Delta Sky Miles Gold credit card, wave goodbye to the first checked-bag fee for up to nine people traveling together on the cardholder’s reservation, a savings of $225. With an AMEX Platinum card, receive a yearly $200 credit on the carrier of your choice for luggage fees and airline incidentals. Research your frequent flyer membership; at some levels, your bags go free.

Family & Friends Rules

Reserve wheelchairs. During the busy holidays, be sure to ask ahead of time for a wheelchair (always free) for granny who tires after walking a few steps. Doing so will lessen her wait time for assistance.

Consider extra travel help. According to the Department of Transportation, if someone cannot be counted on to follow safety procedures, then he can no longer fly alone. To get great-uncle Louis to the holiday table, ask a friend or relative to be his flight buddy or engage a travel companion whose services include taking Louis to the airport, checking him in and flying with him. Preferred Travel Helpers,, and Flying Companion,, are among the companies providing such assistance.

Click USA to read the article.


How to save on family holiday travel

by Candyce H. Stapen, special for USA TODAY

Christmas in Washington DC at the Capitol (Photo: Candyce Stapen)

Christmas in Washington DC at the Capitol (Photo: Candyce Stapen)

6:05PM EDT October 16. 2012 – During the holidays, family travel usually involves visiting friends and relatives or that much-anticipated vacation destination. But the holidays are also high season. That means top hotel rates, restaurants serving expensive meals, and stages hosting sparkling ballets, plays and rock concerts at premium prices. Here are some tips on how to stretch your holiday budget by saving money on food, lodging and fees.

Cheap eats on the go

Eat the street food. Take advantage of the food truck revolution to cut your lunch costs. In Boston, New York, Washington, D.C, Minneapolis, Chicago, Austin and other urban locales, skilled cooks serve up imaginative fare from their mobile kitchens. The vendors tend to specialize in one main dish, tweaking the ingredients. Empanadas can be beef with potato or Jambalaya style with shrimp, sausage and rice. Tacos come filled with chicken, beef or even lobster. And for dessert, look for trucks selling waffles, cupcakes or custom-made ice cream sandwiches. These mobile meals-on-wheels rove the downtown districts, parking for awhile and then moving on. To track the trucks, check the destination’s official visitor website for links and for apps.

Browse the green markets. Indoor farmers’ markets bloom in major cities from Toronto to Los Angeles. Although winter might mean fewer home-grown vegetables, the markets lure neighbors and visitors by selling aromatic breads, fresh-baked pastries, crisp apples and other seasonal fruit as well as organic salads and deli meats. Dine in at the markets’ inexpensive cafés or bring some goodies back to your hotel room or to your relatives’ house.

Rooms with meals

Pick a property that includes breakfast. When rates include complimentary breakfast, whether it’s a cooked-to-order meal or a Continental spread, you start your day saving money.

Make sure your room has a refrigerator. Stock your fridge with milk, juice and bottled water purchased at a nearby store, thus saving money on costly honor bar items. When traveling with little ones, buy plastic bowls and spoons as well as cold cereal and baby food. Tots can then eat breakfast when hungry, even if it’s before the hotel restaurant opens. If refrigerators aren’t standard features, hotels may supply them for a fee. Like all extras, availability is limited, so request a fridge when you make your room reservation.

Book a condo. Not only do these lodgings offer more space for the money than hotel rooms, but they also come with kitchens. That makes it easy to cook breakfasts and dinners, thus saving on restaurant bills.

Cook for relatives. Instead of taking Aunt Sally, Uncle Bill and their families out to a restaurant to thank them for their hospitality, cook dinner for them. This is less costly and often less hectic than requiring youngsters to sit through a multi-course meal at a restaurant.

The destination

Consider a home exchange. By swapping your vacant place for someone else’s, you can enjoy a getaway in Europe, the Caribbean or anywhere else you can find a family to live in your home while you live in theirs, all for much less money than renting a hotel or villa. Depending on what you want, trading places can get you multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, maybe a backyard and possibly extras like a car. Home exchange companies typically charge a membership fee and/or a monthly listing fee. If you’ve always wanted to treat your mom and dad to Christmas in Rome, then swapping homes can make this dream trip an affordable holiday gift.

Click USA to read the article.

How to make holiday travel planning a family affair

by Candyce H. Stapen, special for USA TODAY

Photo: Thinkstock

5:44PM EST October 2. 2012 – The December holidays—Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa—provide families the opportunity to celebrate together, see friends and relatives and even treat themselves to winter vacations. But these getaways, whether to grandma’s or grand resorts, take extra planning. A key to ensuring that crowded roads, airports and hotels plus other potential travel glitches don’t squelch your family’s joy is to turn your gang into a team. Involving your kids in the holiday process, from planning to partying, goes a long way toward gaining their cooperation and lightening your load. Here are some suggestions.

The vacation destination

–Ask for input. Do your kids want to ski and snowboard or surf and swim? You may not be able to afford the far away slopes or sands of their dreams, but ski areas or beaches within a short flight or doable drive make a good compromise.

–Keep the holiday spirit. Task your children with decorating the hotel room or condo. Little ones can hang crayon drawings and fashion mini-Christmas trees or menorahs from pipe cleaners, cardboard and other easy-to-pack objects.

–Pick a family project. Get back to the meaning of the holidays by helping the community. Suggest your teens contact the destination’s Chamber of Commerce or the resort to discover the local community’s suggestions. Send clothing or toys ahead of time or have your children pool their allowance to purchase a holiday meal for a family in need.

–Select a special activity. Instead of the typical individual presents, consider gifting your family with a memorable group outing you wouldn’t normally do such as a horse-drawn carriage ride to a mountain lodge dinner or a day-long snorkeling outing. Give kids travel apps and guides to review the possibilities.

The relatives

–Tell kids about the family history. Use the time en route to let kids learn about their relatives. Your youngsters may only know 60-something Uncle Fred as that cheek-pincher. Let them hear how he helped save his platoon in the Vietnam War.

–Use tweens’ and teens’ digital expertise. Ask these Web wizards and YouTube masters to chronicle the family holiday by taking photos, shooting videos and editing them into a family movie. Be sure these budding directors interview grandparents, great-aunts and any senior family members. Years from now, this family feature will become a treasured memento. Little ones can get into the act by asking questions. Try “How did you celebrate the holidays as a kid?” Before any posts, be sure to exercise your right of the final edit just to make sure the finished product fits in with your family’s values.


–Mail gifts ahead of time. Morph your older kids into Santa’s helpers by having them take presents to the post office. Shipping gifts in advance lessens your luggage load, eliminates excess baggage fees and prevents the disappointment of watching airport security personnel select your painstakingly prepared package for unwrapping.

Click USA to read the article.


How to Entertain Kids on the Road

By Candyce H. Stapen, special for USA TODAY

how to entertain kids on the roadMay 11, 2012 – Think of road trips with your children as rare opportunities. When else do you have a long stretch of time with your kids uninterrupted by television, homework, phone calls, their friends or other distractions? Especially with kids along, getting there can be half the fun.

To make sure, plan ahead and follow the cardinal rule of family travel: maintain a sense of humor. After all, sometimes cars break down, babies spit up, traffic crawls and attractions get crowded. Here are some suggestions, oriented to age groups, to make your road trip memorable for all the right reasons.


Talk with them. Get the conversation going by telling tales of your childhood. Kids love to hear about their parents at their same age.

Listen. A car provides an ideal venue for older children to open up about their feelings. Since the driver looks straight ahead and the passengers often do too, conversation feels much less judgmental than a face-to-face talk. On a long stretch of highway when it’s dark, you’re likely to find out what it really felt like to come in third at the swim meet.

Let teens pick aspects of the trip. The ultimate procrastinators, most teens won’t have given your journey much thought, although they will express definite opinions. Once on the highway, hand your teens guidebooks and travel apps so they can choose a few activities and restaurants.

Share music. Music really can soothe the soul. Ask your teens to share songs from their personal iPods or MP3 players that the family might like. Use your car’s stereo system or tote a portable speaker.

roadtrips with kidsGRADE-SCHOOLERS:

Vary the seating. After miles on the road, it’s common to hear such backseat cries as “His foot is on my side.” To manage a meltdown, divide and conquer. Switch places so that the child old enough to sit in the front moves next to the driver. If there’s another adult, have him sit in the rear. That not only stops squabbles, but gives each child important one-on-one time with a parent or grandparent.

Use the baby to mark a border. With three children, place the littlest one in the middle of the car’s backseat. That creates a buffer zone between fighting older siblings and positions two kids to play with the tot.

Think picnic. Tweak the tried-and-true rule of taking a bathroom and snack break every two to three hours: pack a lunch and pause for a picnic and a Frisbee game at a local or state park along your route.

Bring games and toys. Bring the movies, portable electronic games and other hi-tech toys your brood favors. But think low-tech, too. Pack pipe cleaners for making crazy-shaped critters, as well as coloring books, crayons and sticker games, plus a few new toys as a surprise.

Arrive by late afternoon. After a day on the road, everybody looks forward to an out-of-car experience. Plan to arrive at your daily destination well before dinner so that you and the kids can take advantage of the swimming pool or play area.


Understand your family’s rhythms of the road. Some families prefer putting little ones in pajamas and starting the drive after dinner when traffic diminishes and kids sleep. Others find that early-morning departures enable them to be at their destination before the late-afternoon, kid-cranky hours.

Click USA to read the article.


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