September 2017 Travel Column

Wellness Retreats

If your idea of a perfect vacation is visiting a place that allows you to unwind, relax and recharge, then the growing trend of “Wellness Travel” may be just what you need.

Wellness retreats are geared toward the mind, body and spirit, with everything from meditation and yoga to natural remedies and organic cuisine to a variety of outdoor activities. They’re places that travelers can leave feeling rejuvenated.

Travel Leaders Group’s Select Wellness Collection includes resorts that have been carefully chosen based on their unique amenities. Because of Travel Leaders’ relationship with these resorts, travel agents can offer their clients exclusive benefits when they book a vacation. Here’s a look at what some of these resorts have to offer.

Thailand. The Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort, in Thailand, is perched on a ridge overlooking the hills of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. An elephant camp provides a unique opportunity to get close to these gentle giants. The resort offers massages and facials, spa treatments, cooking lessons and guided tours of the region, with its ancient temples and museums. Guests can use multiple running and walking trails, go biking and take part in outdoor yoga.

St. Lucia. For a beach vacation combined with outdoor activities including golf and scuba diving, consider a trip to Body Holiday, an all-inclusive luxury resort on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia. Guests can try the resort’s exclusive body wrap and a relaxing massage, as well as the therapeutic mineral bath spa at colorful Diamond Falls. History buffs can explore Pigeon Island National Historic Park and the remains of an 18th-century fort.

Amsterdam. Travelers who want to get away from it all but still enjoy the excitement of a city should consider the Conservatorium in Amsterdam, an elegant hotel with easy access to all of the city’s cultural destinations. Enjoy Watsu, a gentle form of massaging and stretching in warm water, detox with a nutritionist and enjoy a personalized organic diet, while taking advantage of Amsterdam’s famous museums and picturesque parks and canals.

Riviera Maya. The Belmond Maroma, along Mexico’s Riviera Maya, is nestled between white-sand beaches and a 200-acre jungle and bordered by the world’s second longest barrier reef. It’s a perfect spot for exploring Mayan ruins, playing a round of golf or even swimming with the dolphins. Guests can enjoy rituals based on ancient Mayan healing techniques that use the natural powers of herbs to infuse the skin, as well as warm and relaxing water massages. The resort is also geared toward families, with a range of activities, children’s menus and spa treatments.

Napa Valley. At Solage Calistoga, in California’s Napa Valley north of San Francisco, guests enjoy cleansing mud baths, water therapy and an oxygen infusion facial that hydrates and revitalizes. Eco-conscious travelers will appreciate the green design – including charging stations for electric cars. All rooms come with complimentary bikes for exploring. The resort is also a great starting point for exploring the area’s award-winning wineries, restaurants, galleries and spas.

For help choosing a wellness resort, contact your travel agent.


What to See and Do in Ecuador

Ever since naturalist Charles Darwin stopped by in 1835, the Galapagos Islands have been a magnet for travelers. The archipelago off the coast of Ecuador is one of the best places in the world to view wildlife, but that’s only one reason to plan a visit.

Ecuador is a great place to experience the flavor of South America, from the majestic peaks of the Andes to the lush Amazon rainforest. You’ll marvel at the scenery and get a chance to explore the cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial history of its cities, as well as the native culture of its small towns.

The period from December to May is the warmest time to visit the Galapagos, as the winds die down and the seas become calmer. Those are also the best months for a relaxing beach vacation on Ecuador’s Pacific Coast. Although it’s the rainy season, mornings tend to be sunny and when the rain comes, it falls in short tropical bursts in the afternoon. Drier conditions in October and November make those the best months to go trekking in the rainforest and lowlands.

But whenever you go, you’ll find lots to do. Quito, the 16th-century capital, has a well-preserved Old Town with bustling plazas, historic churches and museums. Take a sky tram to the top of Cruz Loma for a magnificent view of the city and its surroundings. The calculation may be a bit off, but the Middle of the World Monument is a fun day trip from Quito. You can stand on the equator, with one foot each in the northern and southern hemispheres. About two hours north, in the Andean highlands, Otavalo is renowned for its hand-woven textiles and other handicrafts, such as jewelry and musical instruments.

For the full rainforest experience, travelers should head to Yasuni National Park in eastern Ecuador, home to countless varieties of plant and animal life, including nearly 600 species of birds and 10 species of monkeys, as well as numerous other mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Eco-tourism lodges in the area offer the total package: accommodations, meals and guided excursions. You’ll have a chance to go swimming, explore rivers and lagoons by canoe, hike through the jungle under canopies of trees and visit indigenous communities to learn about their way of life.

For many travelers, the Galapagos Islands, with their abundant wildlife including giant tortoises, penguins, sea lions, lizards and iguanas, is a dream destination. The chain of more than a dozen islands is located about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. There are two options: staying at a hotel on an inhabited island and taking day excursions by boat, or by taking a cruise. A cruise allows you to visit more distant islands, and you’ll wake up each morning in a new destination ready to explore. In addition to what you can see on land, the Galapagos is also a great destination for scuba diving.

For help planning a trip to Ecuador, contact your travel agent.


Traveling with Pets

Planning the perfect vacation requires a lot of attention to detail, but for travelers who want to bring a pet with them there are even more details to consider, especially if the trip involves an airplane ride.

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers advice on its website, avma.org, for pet owners who want to travel with their canine or feline companions. The first step is to clear your plans with your veterinarian, who can help determine whether your dog or cat can travel safely. Not all pets are able to withstand the stress of a trip, either because of their age, medical condition or temperament. Depending on where you’re traveling, you may also need a copy of your pet’s medical records, and it’s a good idea to ask your vet for a few extra days’ worth of medication.

The vet can also give you tips on acclimating your pet to travel and new surroundings. If you’ll be taking some long road trips, go on a test drive beforehand to make sure your pet doesn’t get carsick. Even if you’re flying, consider if your pet will need to be in a long car ride or even train ride once you get to your destination. Let your dog or cat try out the carrier beforehand to give them plenty of time to get used to it before you travel. A favorite toy or pillow placed inside may help. If you’ll be traveling with your dog or cat in an in-cabin crate, make sure it will fit underneath the seat in front of you, provide for air circulation and give the animal room to lay down, stand up and turn around comfortably.

Check with your airline, as well as any hotels where you’ll be staying, to make sure that they’re prepared to welcome your dog or cat.

Each airline and hotel has different rules and fees for traveling pets. Small dogs and cats are generally allowed in the passenger cabin of airlines, but larger dogs must fly in the cargo hold. Some carriers have restrictions on breeds. For example, snub-nosed dogs that tend to have breathing problems generally aren’t allowed in baggage holds. Airlines also have quotas for the number of pets allowed in the cabin, so book your flight early.

When you book your hotel, be aware that some have weight limits for dogs that are allowed to stay in rooms, as well as a curfew for when they must be settled down. Some hotels may prohibit animals from some public areas, so you may want to work with a travel agent to help you find the hotel best suited for you and your pet. Also, to make outside walks easier, ask for a ground-floor room or one near the elevator.

When you’ve picked a flight and accommodations that make sense for you and your pet, draw up a checklist for all the paperwork and equipment you’ll need. Most airlines will require a certificate of veterinary inspection issued within 10 days of travel with proof that your dog or cat is healthy and has had all of its vaccinations. Before leaving home, make sure that your pet is properly identified, either with a microchip or collar with an ID tag. Bring some favorite food, toys and blankets. And research the location of veterinary hospitals, just in case.

For help planning a trip with your pet, contact your travel agent.


Travel to South Korea for the Winter Olympics

If attending an Olympics has been on your bucket list, consider planning a trip to South Korea for the 2018 Winter Games, where you can cheer on athletes from your favorite sports and discover this Asian nation’s ancient history and culture.

Nearly 3,000 athletes from more than 80 countries will take part in the XXIII Winter Games, scheduled for Feb. 9-25 in PyeongChang, South Korea. They’ll compete in more than a dozen sports, including skiing, skating, hockey, bobsledding and snowboarding.

Located in the Taebaek Mountains, PyeongChang is a popular resort destination, especially in the wintertime, with lots of opportunities for skiing and snowboarding. The region’s Odaesan National Park offers numerous areas to go hiking, from easy walking paths to steeper, more demanding trails. The park, located in the province of Gangwon-do, is also home to ancient Buddhist temples, including Woljeongsa. Located in a forested valley, the temple is known for its ornate nine-story pagoda that dates to the 10th century and a museum of treasures from Buddhist culture. Other area attractions include a sheep ranch and botanic garden.

South Korea has spent billions preparing for the Olympics, including construction of a high-speed rail link that will whisk visitors from Seoul, the country’s capital, to PyeongChang in about an hour. The new train line will help increase the region’s attraction as a vacation destination long after the Games have ended.

While the Olympics may be the main event in 2018, there’s much for travelers to see and do in Seoul. This modern, vibrant city of nearly 10 million people is the cultural, political and economic heart of South Korea.

For a taste of Korean life, visit one of Seoul’s lively outdoor markets and engage in some good-natured bargaining. The biggest are Namdaemun and Gwangjang, where you’ll find hundreds of stalls selling everything from clothes to toys to fine arts to food. Make sure you try kimchi, Korea’s national dish, made from fermented vegetables. For high-end shopping, or just to window shop, check out the luxury stores in Apgujeong. You’ll find plenty of designer names along the tree-lined corridor, which earns its nickname the Beverly Hills of Seoul. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the funky university neighborhood of Hongdae, with its music clubs, vintage shops and cafes.

To explore Korea’s royal history, pay a visit to one of Seoul’s palaces. Changdeokgung, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dates from the 15th century. It’s well preserved, with many original features, and has a beautifully landscaped garden. Afterward, head to the nearby Bukchon Hanok Village, a residential area with a large number of traditional Korean wooden homes. For a respite from the city, walk along Seoullo 7017 – an overpass that’s been turned into a park, much like New York City’s High Line. The area is lined with flowers and trees and offers musical performances and art exhibits. It’s a great spot to relax at a café and watch the world go by.

For help planning a trip to South Korea, contact your travel agent.


Business Travel: TSA Precheck, Global Entry and CLEAR

For a business traveler, the line at airport security can add anxiety to what may already be a stressful trip. And upon returning home from a trip overseas, the last thing a weary traveler wants is to face another long line to get through customs.

Luckily, there are a few ways to help shorten those lines. If you’re a business traveler with a job that requires you to be a frequent flier, here’s a look at what the Transportation Security Administration’s Precheck and Global Entry offer, as well as CLEAR, a privately operated trusted traveler program.

Federal officials say that more than 4 million people are already taking advantage of TSA Precheck, which is designed for domestic air travel. It allows low-risk passengers to move through an expedited security screening to board their flight. In July, 96 percent of TSA Precheck passengers waited in line less than five minutes. Fliers who qualify don’t have to remove shoes, belts, light jackets, laptops or their quart bag of liquids from their carry-on. TSA Precheck is currently available at 200 airports nationwide, including most major cities, with 37 participating airlines.

Travelers can submit an online application that takes about five minutes to complete and schedule an appointment at any of more than 380 enrollment centers nationwide, many of which are located at airports. The in-person appointment takes about 10 minutes and includes a background check and fingerprinting. Check the tsa.gov website for instructions on which documents you’ll need to bring with you. Once your application is approved, you’ll receive a known traveler number. The 5-year membership fee is $85.

Business travelers whose work takes them abroad should consider signing up for Global Entry. Also a federal program, it offers fliers all the benefits of TSA Precheck plus expedited customs screening for travelers re-entering the United States. There are no paper forms, such as a customs declaration, to fill out when you arrive home. Travelers with Global Entry can use a kiosk to quickly clear immigration and customs and be on their way. The membership fee is $100 for five years, and includes membership into the TSA Precheck program.

Note, some credit card companies and loyalty programs offer their customers rebates on the TSA membership fee, so that’s one money-saving option worth checking out.

Of course, before travelers in TSA Pre can even reach their lane for expedited security screening they have to wait in line to get their identification and boarding pass checked.

A private company called CLEAR is trying to reduce that bottleneck. CLEAR uses biometrics ­– a fingerprint or scan of the eye – to verify a flyer’s identification. At participating airports, passengers go to the CLEAR kiosk where they tap their finger on a pad or blink to verify their identification, and then scan their boarding pass. A Clear representative escorts them to the TSA Precheck lane. The program is available at two-dozen airports nationwide. There’s an annual membership fee of $179.

All options can save you time, which saves your company time and money.

For help planning a business trip across the country or around the world, contact your travel agent.

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