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Most Affordable Destinations for 2015

   

And the winner is — Dallas!  Priceline released its list of the 15 most affordable cities today, based on the average daily room rate, and this Texas city came in number one with an average daily room rate (ADR) of $86.31. My hometown continues to make the list, with an average daily room rate for Atlanta of $96.99.

Rounding out the list are:

2. Salt Lake City —  $86.31

3. Orlando, FL — $89.57

4. Charlotte, NC — $92.37

5. Phoenix, AZ  — $93.44

6. Tampa, FL —  $94.03

7. Las Vegas, NV — $96.27

8. Atlanta, GA — $96.99

9. Louisville, KY — $101.69

10.  San Antonio, TX — $102.69

11. Houston, TX — $103.72

12. Orange County, CA — $106.69

13. Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN — $107.91

14. Denver, CO — $109.20

15. Portland, OR —  $109.30

 

Holiday Spirits

   

UnknownProving once again that alcohol can really be fun and flavorful comes this product from LIQS. This line of premium  cocktail shots are all made with all-natural flavors and come in four flavors:

 

• Tequila Cinnamon Orange

• Vodka Cucumber Lime

• Vodka Kamikaze

• Vodka Lychee Grapefruit

Buy a bundle of four three packs in a gift box for $35.96, perfect for gift giving. Oh, and Santa? You can add them to my list.

 

Cyber Monday Deals

   
The Westin Playa Bonita Panama is just one of the many properties offering great deals on Cyber Monday. Get a room here at 75% off, starting at just $55 a night.

The Westin Playa Bonita Panama is just one of the many properties offering great deals on Cyber Monday. Get a room here at 75% off, starting at just $55 a night.

Forget about returning to work after the holiday — it’s Cyber Monday and time to shop for travel.

Here are just a few sites where you can find deals. Also, be sure and check with your favorite destinations to see if they have any special offers today.

• Save up to 75% on deals in Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico/Latin America and Europe; www.cybertraveldeals.com

New York Palace, The “50% off at 50th and Madison” package at The New York Palace offers 50% off Towers Corner Suites, the 1200-square-foot suites located in the property’s hotel-within-a-hotel for travel from January 1 to March 31. http://bit.ly/1rglT9n

Seaside Amelia Inn, Save up to 40% off. www.seasideameliainn.com

Onboard.com, Save on cruises on several lines, including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess, Cunard, Carnival and Holland America; promo.onboard.com/black-friday

•  Biras Creek Resort on the British Virgin Islands,  is offering a special Cyber Monday discount valid for travel in Dec. 2014 and Jan. 2015 excluding Dec. 23rd to Jan. 3rd. Book 5 nights in a Garden Suite and receive your 6th and 7th nights, plus meals free. Book   between Dec. 1st and Dec. 5th.  www.biras.com

•  CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa in Mexico:  stay April 15 through June 30, 2015 for $70/night – a 50% savings with 3-night minimum. www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pvrmx-casamagna-marriott-puerto-vallarta-resort-and-spa/

Sandos Hotels & Resorts, discounts of up to 47% off Sandos Hotels in Mexico. Valid for travel from January 4th until April 11th 2015; www.sandos.com

Starwood Caribbean Hotels & Resorts, minimum of 10% off daily room rates for properties including Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, W Retreat & Spa – Vieques Island, The Westin St. John Resort and St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico for stays until February 1, 2015 at hotels and April 15, 2015 at resorts.

If you miss Cyber Monday, here’s a deal for Wednesday:

• Save 50% off stays at Howard Johnson with its Orange Wednesday promotion; www.hojo.com/orangewednesday

 

Get Toasty Toes!

   

The rest of me may be shivering as winter arrives but my feet will remain so warm with these Heat Holders, thermal socks touted to keep your feet seven times warmer than cotton socks.

Something about the way they are knit with thermal pile makes these socks hold the warm air closer to your skin. Previously only available in the UK, we now can buy them stateside in a variety of colors and styles for men, women and children. Prices start at $16. www.heatholders.com

Life in the Banff Lane

   

Where I am from, we do not walk on water, so driving on it is a foreign concept, as we did at the Columbia Icefield. The guide did not have to remind me to stay within the confines of the cones.

I once watched footage of scuba divers who finned their way a mile into an underwater cave through some openings so narrow they had to take off their tanks to squeeze through them. I about hyperventilated myself right off my family room couch.

I am no adrenaline junkie. Avoiding road-ragers on the highways in Atlanta, trying to outbid opponents on eBay auctions and meeting multiple deadlines every week provide all the heartbeat-raising excitement I need.

So you won’t find me hanging by my fingernails from a cliff in Yosemite. But when I venture to a new destination, I seek the opportunity to test the confines of my comfort zone, which fall somewhere between that of wing suited free fallers and comedian Larry David, who declares his is a ½” wide.

A view of the trail ahead of me while riding Little Boy. To the left is a steep drop-off down to Lake Louise, just one of the amazing views during our four-hour ride.

During a trip to Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada in late summer, those opportunities came from riding in a monster truck on an icefield, getting too-close-for-comfort to a grizzly bear, blowing in the wind in a helicopter over towering cliffs and conquering a childhood fear.

One of the most foreign adventures for me was the Columbia Icefield Glacier Experience. Ice in my native South is generally in the form of cubes, tossed in frosty glasses of achingly sweet iced tea, carefully spooned into a cocktail, or shoveled into large coolers of beer or freshly caught shrimp from warm coastal waters. As for walking on it – I’m from the Bible Belt, where only Jesus does that.

Taking a break during our hike around Moraine Lake, prior to the grizzly bear sighting. The water really is that beautiful shade of deep turquoise.

Taking a break during our hike around Moraine Lake, prior to the grizzly bear sighting. The water really is that beautiful shade of deep turquoise.

We arrived on the Icefield and the guide let us out, free to roam as we wished within the confines of the orange cones, plastic neon-colored manifestations of our collective comfort zone where we were safe from falling into the crevasses that form as the ice shifts.

I took a deep breath of the frigid air, admiring the beauty of the vast expanse of ice surrounded by partially snow-capped peaks, confident I could now get through an entire episode of “Ice Road Truckers” without a panic attack. I marveled that there was enough ice within sight to fill the drinks at tailgate parties for the SEC and ACC football conferences for decades.

My next opportunity to go beyond my comfort zone came during a hike from Moraine Lake up to Eiffel Lake in Banff National Park when another group of hikers warned us that a grizzly bear had been sighted on the path just ahead of us. Our guide, Joel, felt fairly confident it was the friendly-to-people Bear #72, but as one member of our group helpfully pointed out, “Yeah, but sometimes people’s own dogs turn on them and eat their faces off.”

While there was a part of me that longed for that envy-inspiring selfie with a grizzly, I wasn’t too upset that Joel decided we should turn around and leave Bear #72 alone. Or to chew the faces off of other hikers. The limits of my comfort zone ended several feet from the reach of her giant paws.

Back-seat view from our helicopter ride with Kefield Helicopter tours.

Back-seat view from our helicopter ride with Kefield Helicopter tours.

My next animal encounter was with a domesticated species. I’ve always been a little scared of horses and the last time I’d been on one I was wearing stirrup pants, Farrah Fawcett waved hair and humming “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”

Expecting a few words of encouragement, or at least some instruction, I told our guide, Kevin, that I hadn’t ridden a horse since the 1980s. He grinned at me beneath the brim of his cowboy hat. “Horses hadn’t changed,” he said briskly.

Left to my own devices, I thought back on any riding lessons I could derive from episodes of “Bonanza.” But I got distracted thinking how suspicious it was that all three of Ben Cartwright’s wives had died and there wasn’t a woman within miles of the Ponderosa.

But my horse, Little Boy, knew what to do. Our small group set out slowly, walking single file through the wooded, sloped and rocky terrain, and I settled more comfortably in the saddle with each sure step he took between large rocks, up and down steep inclines. I realized although I was outside my comfort zone, he was firmly within the confines of his.

After our four-hour ride through the towering pines down to the banks of the impossibly turquoise-colored Lake Louise, I dismounted and congratulated myself that while I’ll never be hanging a pair of chaps in my closet, I had overcome a childhood fear.

After a windy ride up there, our helicopter landed on the side of a cliff.

After a windy ride up there, our helicopter landed on the side of a cliff.

It was Mother Nature that tossed me out of my comfort zone during our helicopter ride with Icefield Heli Tours. We were delayed due to high winds that had the windsock on the airfield at a constantly erect position. When we finally took off, the strong winds blew us about and I felt like a bee being swatted by an extremely pissed-off bear. I considered my fellow passengers and wondered if we crashed into the forest not to be found for months, which one of us would be eaten first.

Fortunately, we soon landed in a small grassy flat area at the top of a peak and joined the others in our group. They had arrived before us in separate copters and were huddled against the chilly winds just a few feet from the cliff’s edge.

A toast to Life in the Banff Lane

A toast to Life in the Banff Lane

I went to the edge of that cliff and peering below, marveled at free fallers whose idea of fun was to don a funny-looking suit and throw themselves off a cliff, fearlessly defying the forces of gravity. For me, just standing a pebble’s toss from the cliff’s edge to have my photo taken was thrill enough. I cherish that photo, with a view of the jagged mountain peaks and the clear blue lake far below, and gave it this caption:  “The View From Outside My Comfort Zone.”

This article appears in the Fall issue of Travelgirl magazine

Stand Tall in UpCouture

   
These T-shirts from UpCouture encourage good posture. You won't need reminding to sit or stand up straight.

These T-shirts from UpCouture encourage good posture. You won’t need reminding to sit or stand up straight.

I call it the T-shirt that does what my mother never could – make me stand up straight. We all know we shouldn’t slouch — we need to hold our shoulders back and sit up tall, right? Well, now there’s a clothing line designed to make sure you do just that.

UpCouture has a line of T-shirts for men and women that have hidden bands that actually hold your shoulders back and encourages that excellent posture we should all have.

Made in France of organic cotton, the Up T-shirt is really comfortable, and yes, did make me sit and stand up straight. The shirts come in a variety of styles and colors. Prices run from $145 to $170.

Shack Shake Opens in ATL

   
The Shackburger from Shake Shack. It's worth the extra calories. (Photo by Evan Sung.)

The Shackburger from Shake Shack. It’s worth the extra calories. (Photo by Evan Sung.)

I’m a Fitbit fanatic, a regular at the Y, eat salads every day and generally find most desserts are NWC – not worth the calories. A good chocolate chip cookie is the notable exception.

But sometimes you just gotta throw dietary constraints and concerns about huge calorie counts out the window and reach for a whopping burger, fries and a shake.

On those occasions, head to Shake Shack, that hamburger stand with the cult following.

Shake Shack just opened its first location in Atlanta, a two-story building in Buckhead Atlanta, fronting Peachtree Road across from the old Cheesecake Factory. (Long-time Atlantans will remember it as the former location of the Buckhead Men’s Shop.) The original opened in Madison Square Park in New York in 2004, and now has more than 50 locations.

We were lucky enough to attend a big opening event this past Tuesday, and while it was a challenge grabbing food as it was carried out on trays by the ever-smiling staff, it was worth the effort. My first taste was of the DogMeister, a 100 percent all-natural beef hot dog topped with cheddar cheese, American cheese sauce and crispy shallots. Pretty delicious, although I rarely eat hot dogs. Remember our theme is making exceptions.

I enjoyed the fries but they aren’t my favorite. Wow – that SmokeShack cheeseburger, though. Made with hormone-free Angus beef, it was perfectly cooked and slathered with ShackSauce, applewood bacon and chopped cherry pepper.

Homemade frozen custard ice cream at Shake Shack.

Other menu items include the ‘Shroom Burger, a portobello mushroom burger, and the Chicken Dog. Of course, Shake Shack is known for its milk shakes and they were creamy and delicious, made with real sugar and hormone-free milk. A nod to our city comes from the Peachtree, a caramel peach shake, and pecan pie from H&F Bread Company. Concretes are frozen custard treats that you can design yourself with your choice of mix-ins.

Soft drinks, iced tea and juices are available. And yes, there is alcohol, including ShackMeister  Ale, brewed for Shake Shack by Brooklyn Brewery. The wine list is as simple as it gets – either red or white wine, bottled by Frog’s Leap in Napa Valley.

I recommend hanging out on the spacious rooftop terrace, weather permitting. I loved looking over Peachtree Road, and the chance to do that is pretty rare, particularly in Buckhead. I’m predicting tables may be hard to come by here though — it’s bound to be a big hit in Atlanta.

Favorite Fall Travel Dress

   
If you see me on a plane or in an airport, chances are you'll see me in the Ponte Travel Dress from Royal Robbins.

If you see me on a plane or in an airport, chances are I’ll be wearing this Ponte Travel Dress from Royal Robbins.

Comfort is the key word for me when it comes to picking a great travel outfit. Oh, and warmth.  And it has to look stylish.

This Ponte Travel Dress from Royal Robbins covers all the bases for me and is now my official travel dress for the cooler months.

I put it on for the first time this week, the first day of fall, to wear to the theater. It’s so soft, made with a fleece-like material, and has a flattering cut that’s just lose enough I can forgo the body slimmers.

The dress is wrinkle-free so will be no worse the wear after I throw it in my suitcase during the trip, and quick-drying should I need to wash it while on the road. The dress comes in blackberry, dark galaxy green and jet black for $85.

Royal Robbins is owned by Royal Robbins, an internationally acclaimed climber and kayaker, and his wife Liz. They started the company more than 30 years ago when they couldn’t find clothing that suited their active lifestyle. Check out their other styles for men and women at Royal Robbins.

New Delhi Delight

   

 

The magnificent pool at Leela Palace in New Delhi. Photo by Rohit Chawla

The magnificent pool at Leela Palace in New Delhi. Photo by Rohit Chawla

It was only because I had to catch a flight to the amazing Ananda Spa that allowed me to tear myself away from one of the most beautiful pools I’d ever seen, featuring a vertical garden over an infinity pool with city views below. But then again, everything I’d seen at the five-star Leela Palace in the Diplomatic Enclave of New Delhi had seemed fit for royalty.

My luxurious, elegantly appointed room was huge, with a view of a tree-filled roundabout below, the greenery forming a colorful contrast with the pink stucco buildings lining the streets. During a walk around the hotel, I marveled at the multi-million dollar art collection and fresh flower accents everywhere.

More flowers were in abundant supply as we enjoyed a breakfast buffet in the sprawling gardens in The Qube, one of the award- winning restaurants that are destinations in themselves for locals and tourists. Others include Le Cirque, MEGU and Jamavar.

While our delayed flight ruined our chance to enjoy dining at one, we did enjoy martinis, lamb and vegetable samosas and meat kebabs in The Library, a lovely ending to a stressful day of travel and a perfect introduction to my first visit to India.

 

 

Special Travel Issue: The Atlanta 100

   

Ananda Spa near Rishikesh, India

Every week I write 100 words on something travel related for the weekly enewsletter The Atlanta 100. I have total freedom on the topic and have covered the Global Entry Card, new restaurants at the Atlanta airport, travel-related products and many destinations.

The one thing I don’t have any say on? The length of each article. They have to be exactly 100 words. And if one of my items has a slide show? Yep, exactly 100 seconds.

The Atlanta 100 is taking a short hiatus and is running special issues for a few weeks. Last week was a special travel issue, with eight destinations I selected from the previous year. These include Ananda Spa in India, inns in North Georgia, the magnificent Jefferson Hotel in DC, a Vantage Travel riverboat cruise, the 25Hours Bikini Berlin hotel and more.

You can see them all here. Basically you can travel the world, 100 seconds at a time. Enjoy!