(BPT) - Wherever you are in the United States, winter is coming, and for some parts of the country it’s already here. That brings festivities, good cheer, and in at least 70 percent of the country, snow and ice on the roads. While you may think those big, old plow trucks look like something vaguely Jurassic and definitely old fashioned, there is an awful lot of high tech stuff in those plows, helping to keep our roads safe and traffic moving during these winter months.
Of course, all vehicles are a lot more high-tech than they were 10 years ago, but the whole winter maintenance field is undergoing a bit of a revolution with respect to technology. That new technology is beginning to have a profound and beneficial effect not only on your local streets department or highway agency, but also on the safety of the roads in winter, and the ease with which we can travel on them. Salting and plowing can reduce crashes by up to 88 percent in winter storm conditions, and that is a level of safety we can all appreciate.
Some of those changes can be quite obvious to us, as in the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) “Track a plow” website. On that website, anyone can see in near real time where any of the Iowa DOT trucks are located. For many of those trucks, you can also view a photograph taken through the windshield of the truck, which is updated every five minutes, so you get a real idea of what the actual road conditions look like. You can also see which trucks are applying materials to the road (and whether it is a solid or a liquid) and in what quantities. As Dr. Anna Arvidsson of VTI, the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, said of the website, “Wow, that is so cool. I could not even get access to historical data from snowplows in Sweden. And here I can see temperatures both air and surface and spread amount.”
The value of this sort of system to road users is pretty obvious - we can see what the roads are like for ourselves along the route we are planning on taking, and thus make a well-informed decision as to whether we should allow more time for our trip, or perhaps simply stay home. The City of Chicago has a similar system that allows city residents (and anyone else who is interested) to see where the city plows are in near real time.
The benefits of the system extend to commercial transportation as well. A severe winter storm that closes down roads across a whole state may cost the economy up to $700 million per day, so knowing the conditions of the roads can be very important.
But there is another area in which technology is bringing huge changes in winter maintenance, and that is in the whole arena of managing resources. Increasingly, the salt spreaders on the back of those plow trucks are computer controlled, and the computers track not just how much material they are putting down on the road, but where they are placing it, so environmentally sensitive areas can be protected more effectively.
These devices are also tracking the condition of the road surface itself, measuring the pavement temperature (which, much more so than the air temperature determines how effective salt will be when it is placed on the pavement, and guides how much salt should be applied) and in some cases, even measuring the grip of the pavement (how slippery it is) and using that information directly to adjust the application rate.
This new technology allows agencies to provide the level of service on the roads the public wants and needs, while controlling costs and essentially eliminating any environmental concerns about salt use. Kevin Hensley, the stormwater supervisor for the City of West Des Moines, noted new technology allows their agency to manage their activities much better because they can measure what they are doing so much more effectively. “If we can measure it, then we can manage it so much better,” he says.
Better management has some real bottom line benefits for taxpayers, too. “We have decreased our per-storm maintenance costs by between 30 and 50 percent while providing an improved level of service to our community,” says Bret Hodne, the director of Public Works for the City of West Des Moines. Those sorts of savings will keep you feeling warm and toasty inside, no matter how chilly the winter weather gets!
(BPT) - Planning a trip for 2016? While the beach is warm and a cruise ship is lovely, you’ve done those trips before. This year you want something unique that will create lasting memories and bring you closer to your family.
“More people are visiting dude ranches due to the desire to do something out of the ordinary,” says Colleen Hodson, from The Dude Ranchers' Association. “These aren’t the ranches from ‘City Slickers.’ High-end ranches across the country average 45 guests. You get to know everyone. By the end, you’ll have friendships and memories to last a lifetime, and you will reconnect with your family in a way you never thought possible.”
Travelers enjoy getting a taste of the dude ranch experience blended with a heaping serving of other popular vacation-type activities. Today’s dude ranches cater to a diverse crowd with attractions, services and things to do that travel far beyond the trail.
“Dude ranches are the original Western adventure vacation,” says Colleen Hodson. “Though guest expectations have changed and ranchers have had to change with them, the core principles of dude ranching remain the same: horses, hats, hospitality, heritage, honesty and heart.”
In addition to discovering the beauty of nature and gazing into a crackling fire, here are other top reasons dude ranch vacations are a top trend for 2016:
Indulge the taste buds
Home cooked cuisine that oftentimes features ingredients from the ranch brings new meaning to farm-to-table eating. From family-style meals to gourmet al fresco dining, the food is a central part of the dude ranch experience.
Embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure
You can learn traditional ranching skills like riding a horse, driving cattle and throwing a lasso, but adventures on a dude ranch don’t stop there. Some ranches offer overnight pack trips, rodeos, target shooting, zip lining and white water rafting.
Enjoy exclusive fishing
Casting your line has never been more relaxing than at a dude ranch. The vast acres on these private properties often include secluded rivers and ponds ripe with fish. Forget about battling overcrowded hot spots - the water will be all yours.
Embrace an R&R mindset
While the unique dude ranch activities will keep you busy, there comes a time when cowboys and cowgirls just want a little rest and relaxation. Fortunately, many ranches now offer luxury spa services so you can enjoy a little pampering.
Bond over some friendly competition
Looking for a fun way to connect with your family and other guests? Friendly competition can be found in many forms on dude ranches, from roping contests to talent shows. If lassoing a speeding calf isn’t your forte, you can sing, tap or joke your way to local stardom in a talent show.
There are a lot of dude ranches to choose from and The Dude Ranchers' Association can help you find the perfect one to suit your family’s unique personality. Visit www.duderanch.org or call 866-399-2339 to work with someone directly to find the dude ranch right for you and your family.
(BPT) - Have you ever wondered if there's more to a vacation than amusement parks and beachside sunsets? Do you dream of immersing yourself in a culture, all while impacting the people as much as they impact you? If so, volunteering while vacationing - also known as voluntourism - is for you.
What is voluntourism?
Voluntourism is the act of traveling and spending time volunteering, typically for a local nonprofit or charity. You could volunteer for a single day or the duration of your vacation. Many people think voluntourism only happens while traveling abroad, but this is not always true. There are countless opportunities for traveling and volunteering within the United States as well as overseas.
How many travelers are participating in voluntourism?
Voluntourism has existed for decades, but recently there has been a significant increase in participation. This increase can be partially attributed to millennials, a group who, as a whole, desire to get more out of their travel experiences than previous generations. According to a recent report from Reuters, there are an estimated 10 million volunteers a year who embark on philanthropic travel.
What types of things do people do as voluntourists?
Help build a school in Peru. Visit an orphanage and teach children in Haiti. Travel to Hawaii and help with ocean preservation. Go to the Philippines to lend aid to the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. Want to be inspired? Travelocity has long been a supporter of voluntourism and supports the cause through their Travel for Good campaign. The program is launching a nationwide search for three people who are looking to travel for a worthy cause and will fund the travels of these voluntourists. Visit www.travelocity.com/travelforgood for more information.
Tips for planning a voluntourism vacation:
1. Think about what matters to you
The list of causes that you can support as part of your volunteer trip are almost endless. Take time to think about your passions and what matters most to you. According to Travelocity, the top five volunteer programs include medical/health (disaster volunteering ranks as No. 1), education, wildlife, conservation and orphanage. Knowing what cause is most meaningful to you is the best starting point.
2. Brainstorm where you'd like to go
The most popular destination for voluntourism is the Philippines, but there are so many locations you can consider. Most causes are not isolated to one particular part of the world. Do you want to help fight hunger domestically or abroad? If you want to help save the rainforest, you could go to Africa, Central America or numerous other locations. Think about where you'd like to go to make an impact. You should consider other things you'd like to do beyond volunteering so you can find a location where you can do it all.
3. Look into voluntourism assitance
What if you could have some or all of your voluntourism expenses covered? There are a number of organizations that can assist with your travel expenses - for example, Volunteer Forever offers travel scholarships several times a year, while Travelocity's Travel For Good program is selecting individuals who want to take a voluntourism trip via a social media based program.
4. Adopt the right mindset
Some people go on vacation to be served, while voluntourists go on vacation to serve. While volunteering, you may have experiences very different from your normal day-to-day life. Maintain a positive attitude, be flexible, and be willing to help and learn. Remember that traveling can make you a better person, and traveling for a cause is the ultimate way to make a positive difference to others.
(BPT) - Travelers looking to take one more trip this year understand that now's the time to pick a destination. It's time to go somewhere unique, somewhere unseen, somewhere a world away where the people, the experiences and the memories gained will last a lifetime.
Suzhou, located in southeastern China, is that place. Located in the center of the Yangtze River Delta, approximately 60 miles west of Shanghai, Suzhou is one of the oldest cities in the region, dating back more than 2,500 years. Today, Suzhou is one of the hottest travel destinations in China, offering plenty to see and do in a dynamic and beautiful setting
Nine of the world's most beautiful gardens
Classical Chinese garden design flourishes in Suzhou where nine of the city's gardens have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Two of these gardens, Humble Administrator's Garden and Lingering Garden, are considered the most famous gardens in all of China. Humble Administrator's Garden is the nation's largest garden, defined by its pristine collections of small forests and the gentle patter of the water feature that is the garden's backdrop. Lingering Garden blends man-made construction and nature's beauty into one scenic experience. Domiciles and temples come together with native trees and flowers that intertwine along with intricate wood carvings and a collection of rocks deliberately arranged in the garden by its original creators.
The world's longest canal makes Suzhou the Venice of China
One of the best ways to enjoy the history and beauty of Suzhou's landmarks and waterside gardens is relaxing in a boat. Suzhou's narrow water passages are some of the oldest in the world and perfect for any traveler looking to take in the city's original charm. Reach out and touch the plants in the garden of Mudu as you float by with the gentle backdrop noise of the boat's soft paddle touching the water. Or, float beneath the famed bridges of the Wujiang District where newlyweds routinely cross in the hopes the tradition will bring them happiness, peace and fortune.
One of the world's richest historical sites
Located adjacent to the Humble Administrator's Garden is the Suzhou Museum, designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, where guests are treated to a collection of ancient ceramics, wood carvings and other cultural artifacts illustrating the past. The city is also home to The Suzhou Silk Museum, which showcases Suzhou's title as the silk capital of China and offers guests a historical look at the silk production of yesteryear that made the city famous. Visitors can experience the step-by-step silk-making process starting with the silk worm and moving on to thread and finished products.
A festival for every occasion and food you won't forget
No Suzhou travel experience is complete unless it includes attendance at one of the city's numerous festivals, which take place across the city throughout the year. The Hanshan Temple Bell Ringing Festival, for example, takes place every year on Dec. 31. Thousands of people flock to the 1,500-year-old temple to hear the monks strike the bell 108 times which is said to bring good luck in the New Year. Meanwhile, the Spring Festival marks the Chinese New Year and is notorious for its amazing fireworks display and unforgettable parade. Festivals are also a remarkable time to enjoy Suzhou's succulent cuisine. Watch the parade from a seat in a classic Suzhou Tea House or dine on Fengzhen noodles beneath the fireworks. The tastes and the memories are unforgettable.
Plan your visit to Suzhou today
With the gardens, the canal, the history and the culture - there's plenty to do in Suzhou and getting to the region has never been easier. It may just be the trip of a lifetime.
(BPT) - Americans don't take enough time off: that's the consensus of multiple studies on vacation time and how Americans use it - or don't use it. Unused vacation days cost American workers more than $52 billion a year and have left companies on the hook for $224 billion of accumulated vacation time, according to one U.S. Travel Association study. More and more people are taking advantage of their time over the weekend to pursue experiences tied to their passions, with travel topping the list, according to a recent Wakefield Research survey conducted on behalf of Hampton by Hilton.
“Most Americans say they would rather go on a 'bucket list' trip of a lifetime than get a big promotion at work,” says Kristen Hewitt, two-time Emmy Award-winning reporter, columnist, blogger and - as a mother of two - founder of the blog Mommy in Sports. “A growing group of people are regularly taking advantage of weekends to travel to new places. They're following their passions and making the most of those 52 weekends of the year to seek out new experiences and adventures.”
The new travel trend uncovered by the Hampton by Hilton survey has given rise to the term “Seekender” to describe these spontaneous weekend travelers. Seekenders are visiting new places to indulge their passion for food, sports, music or the great outdoors. The survey revealed that 68 percent of Americans would take that bucket list trip over a promotion, and nearly half agreed that the best thing about experiencing something new is making a lifelong memory.
“The last few months of the year bring multiple long weekends, making this the perfect time to become a Seekender,” Hewitt says.
Here are some tips for planning the perfect Seekender weekend:
Timing is always right. Long weekends are ideal for a Seekender getaway, but you can also have a great time in just two days. Since you only have a couple (or a few) days, you can't afford to spend a day in the air or on the road. Simply look for flights with late departures on Friday or choose a destination within a few hours from home.
Nurture your passion. Throughout fall and winter, communities across the country host a variety of events, including food and seasonal festivals, state fairs, concerts and more. Google what you're interested in — such as “food & wine festival” — and find one that speaks to you. With more than 2,000 properties around the world, Hampton by Hilton hotels provide comfortable accommodations no matter where you visit.
Set a budget to spend wisely. Seekender weekends are supposed to be fun and exciting, so the last thing you want to do is worry about overspending. Create a budget for yourself before you go and decide in advance what experiences will be worth investing in. Pre-booking reservations at restaurants can also help avoid going over budget as hunger sets in.
Pack light. It's only a few days, so you may not want to carry a lot of luggage, worry about checked bags or plan complicated outfits. Take only what you'll really need. You'll save time and money by traveling light.
You're there for the people – and the experience. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed said that who they travel with matters more than the destination. Enrich your experience by traveling with people who share your passions — your spouse, significant other, family members, best friends, etc.
Looking for more inspiration and ideas about planning a Seekender weekend? Hampton by Hilton has enlisted the Ultimate Seekender Team, a group of travel-savvy Americans who celebrate the weekend, explore the globe and share their experiences online. For weekend travel inspiration or to book your next getaway, visit www.HamptonSeekender.com and follow the #WeGoTogether hashtag.
(BPT) - Mention South America, and most travelers envision the mysterious Amazon, the majestic Andes, the unmatched Galapagos Islands and the magnificent Pacific beaches. What many don’t know is you can enjoy these experiences and more, conveniently packaged in a country roughly the size of Colorado - Ecuador.
This fall, 16 artists from the USA, Canada, UK and Germany discovered just that as part of the Feel Again Project, led by the Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador. The project invited international teams of artists to find inspiration in the diverse landscapes of Ecuador’s four main climatic regions - the Amazon, the Andes, the Galapagos Islands and the Pacific Coast.
“The amount of different landscapes and microclimates in such as small area really surprised me; the variation is quite staggering,” says Team UK artist, Conor MacNeill. “There’s so much to do across a manageable amount of landmass.”
Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, as reflected in the famed Amazon basin. The lush landscape offers visitors a chance to encounter an exotic range of land, water and arboreal life, including pigmy marmosets, two-toed sloths, scarlett macaws, pink river dolphins, piranha and jaguars.
For Team UK artists Jason and Keiko Hindley, the greatest inspiration came from the people working to preserve that biodiversity - particularly the indigenous Kichwa Añangu community, which runs the Napo Wildlife Centre. The Centre is a great destination for families, they say, with so much to see and do, and guides that adjust treks accordingly for different ages and fitness levels.
Ecuador’s Andes region offers awe-inspiring highlands, dramatic valleys, colonial towns and breathtaking views. Team Germany members Steve Hanisch, Rocket & Wink, and Michelle Phillips and Johannes Conrad of Studio Yukiko recommend visitors immerse themselves in the colors of the region.
Their picks for the region’s most inspirational experiences are riding the luxurious Tren Crucero, a bright red, four-coach train that winds its way through the mountains, and taking a moment to just breathe while overlooking the still blue waters in the Quilotoa volcanic crater, more than 12,800 feet above sea level.
The Galapagos Islands are a living museum of evolution. The region includes 13 major islands, each with unique offerings. For Team USA artist Scott Pommier, uninhabited Española Island was the true stand out.
“We saw such incredible animals at such proximity,” he says. “You’re greeted by sea lions, brightly colored crabs and lava lizards all over the shore. You have to step over marine iguanas to make your way down the trail to one of the only places you can see the mating dance of the waved albatross. On the way there, you pass hooded and blue-footed boobies.”
The Pacific Coast
Forest, mangroves and beaches line Ecuador’s picturesque Pacific Coast. Here, travelers can catch a wave at more than 50 beaches, try the region’s African-influenced, seafood-based cuisine or sample chocolate made from locally grown cocoa, considered the world’s best.
Team Canada artists Rick Leong, Jesse Louttit and Jeff Bartlett each came away with unforgettable experiences to inspire their art. Louttit and Bartlett’s must-do lists include boating with dolphins, exploring the coastal town of Montañita, visiting a cocoa plantation and, of course, trying the chocolate.
“I think that the coast can offer different things to different kinds of travelers,” Leong says. “The luxury traveler will find places to relax and try amazing cuisine, and the budget traveler can head to Montañita to surf and hang out. I think it’s ideal for adventurers, who want to explore and discover.”
(BPT) - Football games, tailgating, barbecue and the onset of cooler temperatures make Texas the perfect destination for any fall guys getaway. Check out the top five reasons to plan your next “mancation” to the Lone Star State.
Miles and Miles of Barbecue
The highlight of every vacation is great food, and Texas has you covered for your next guy’s getaway. Check out the Texas BBQ Trail for the best routes to take to ensure you don’t go home hungry. Kreuz Market and Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor, City Market in Luling and Cooper’s Pit Bar-B-Q in Mason continue to top everyone’s barbecue bucket list, along with newer favorites like Franklin BBQ in Austin and The Granary in San Antonio. Savor every delicious moment and get in line early, because at these local favorites the barbecue gets eaten up fast.
Quench your Thirst
There’s nothing better than an ice cold beer on a mild Texas fall day, so why not come discover where your favorite Texas brews are made? Established in 1909, the famous Spoetzl Brewery produces the national favorite Shiner beer and offers tours each weekday. The capital city of Austin is home to several breweries including 512 Brewing, an independent brewery whose tours include a free 512 pint glass; Hops & Grain, which gives tours of its East Austin locale six days a week; Independence Brewing Co., maker of the beloved Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout; Austin Beerworks, best known for its IPAs and can-only policy; and Jester King, whose farmhouse brewery opens its doors for tastings and tours on the weekends. For the oldest craft brewery in Texas, head to Saint Arnold brewery in Houston which offers tours Monday through Saturday.
If breweries aren’t your thing, the Lone Star State has a number of distilleries to choose from. Waco’s Balcones Distillery’s Baby Blue Whisky is the first Texas whisky on the market since prohibition, while bourbon fans can’t miss Garrison Brothers Distillery in Hye, the first legal bourbon distillery in Texas. For those who prefer vodka, head to the Deep Eddy Distillery for award-winning vodkas in a variety of fun and classic combinations. Austin Tour Company offers a roundtrip shuttle to the Dripping Springs distillery from the JW Marriott in downtown Austin, making it easy to responsibly enjoy the tour.
Wrangle the Wild West
Grab your boots and fulfill your cowboy dreams at one of Texas’ many dude ranches. Wildcatter Ranch in Graham offers the ‘It’s Never Too Late to Be a Cowboy’ package, allowing guests to rope, ride and even work cattle with seasoned wranglers. Bandera, the cowboy capital of Texas, is home to dozens of ranches that allow guests to have an authentic western experience. With horseback riding, rodeos, overnight campouts and meals around the campfire, you’ll get in touch with your inner cowboy in no time.
For a different type of cowboy experience, catch a Dallas Cowboys football game at AT&T Stadium, the largest NFL stadium in terms of seating capacity, seating 85,000. Football is king in Texas, and whether you attend a Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans, or a college football game at one the state’s 12 Division I programs, you’re sure to experience plenty of excitement. Aside from the game itself, food is the next most important aspect of football lifestyle. The parking lots surrounding Texas’ football stadiums are home to some of the biggest and best tailgates in the world, with fans staking out their spots and firing up their grills starting in the early morning.
Catch of the Day
Head to the Texas coast for a guy’s fishing expedition like no other. From Galveston, take any number of gulf or deep sea fishing charters either for a day’s worth of fun or an overnight trip. Mild fall temperatures present the perfect time for fishing, and charters include tour guides who are ready to help either expert anglers or novice fishermen. If your group sticks to a day trip, enjoy the rest of Galveston’s many attractions, including incredible seafood, miles of beaches, amusements at Galveston’s Pleasure Pier and rooftop bars in the downtown area.
Whether you prefer football, fishing, or anything in between, the ultimate guys weekend awaits you in Texas. For more information about travel experiences in the Lone Star State, visit www.TravelTex.com and find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.