Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Bill Brings JOLT to U.S. Tourism

I spend a lot of time talking about how important travel is for personal satisfaction, growth and education, but it is also vital to our economy. The recession is said to be over and America is currently in a state of recovery--and I suppose I believe that. Still, there is a lot that needs to be done in order for us to return to our glory days, and that includes creating more jobs and boosting spending in our country. International travel can not only put thousands of Americans to work, but it can also help to kick the economy into high gear.

Travel and tourism employs nearly 7.4 million Americans and generates $700 billion in revenue. According to studies, on average, international travelers spend $4,000 in the U.S. per visit. Last year, foreigners spent more than $134 billion in travel to America, representing 8.7% of exports of goods and services. However, international tourism has taken a dive lately, and lawmakers are looking to change that. Enter the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel Act, or JOLT.

The bipartisan bill aims to get rid of some of the beuracratic barriers that impede international tourism and deter foreigners from coming to the U.S. That includes a drawn-out visa approval process that involves long wait times for visitors and high fees. Under the current law, the wait time for a U.S. visa can be as long as 100 days for certain countries, like China or Brazil--both of which can bring in big-spending tourists. Many guests don't want to wait that long, and those that do wait usually have to take part in a lengthy interview process. Plus, the application fee of $140 is non-refundable and is usually combined with other costs, which makes coming to the U.S. less appealing. While we do have a Visa Waiver Program in place that lets guests from certain countries enter without a visa, it is somewhat limited, which prevents a number of potential tourists from coming here.

The JOLT Act would aim to change agreements with some countries to allow for extended visa periods so the need to renew it would happen less often. It would also offer visitors an option to speed up the process for a premium cost, which could be nice for foreigners who can afford to have an expedited visa approval. To cut down on the time it takes for approval, the bill would seek to set up standards that require the State Department to conduct interviews and review applications no later than 15 days after the date posted on the applicant request form. Finally, the bill wants to expand the waiver program, and the Secretary of Homeland Security would add more countries that meet the necessary security requirements--because safety is a concern for many citizens.

Tourism is a major source of revenue for our country, as well as a key job creator. America used to be a leader in the industr, but over the last decade, international travel to the U.S. has fallen off for any number of reasons. This bill could spark a turnaround and get us back to the powerhouse we once were. I am definitely all for more ways to boost tourism and travel, because, after all, that is the industry I aspire to be part of for my career.

For more information on the JOLT Act, check out the links below:

Mike Lee, U.S. Senator for Utah

Free Enterprise

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Albuquerque: Rustic Desert Charm Meets Affordable Travel Prices

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but airfare prices are on the rise and they show no sign of dropping down anytime soon. However, if you have your heart set on some spring travel, there are many viable options to choose from, as a few places have seen travel costs decline.

Hotwire compiled a list of five cities where airfares, hotel rates and car rental costs dropped the most in March, and Albuquerque, New Mexico offers the biggest savings for travelers. Airfares to the city dropped 11% to $330, and car rental rates dipped 46% to $20 a day. It appears that this desert town is a bargain for travelers right now, but is it worth a visit?


Maybe it's because I'm reading a book written by an author from Albuquerque--and his love and appreciation for the city are certainly endearing--or perhaps its the thought that I have never been to a place that is so close, so cheap and so interesting, but I have an overwhelming desire to go to one of New Mexico's most fascinating cities.
Source: via Aaron on Pinterest

Albuquerque was shaped by its deep Native American roots. These people have lived in the area for thousands of years, and helped it grow into the multi-cultural community that it is today. The Pueblo tribe settled along the Rio Grande river, surrounded by rich vegetation and beautiful mountain ranges, in what would one day be known as Albuquerque. After the Spanish explorers settled in the region, it became a center of trade, and eventually established itself as a key stop along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The famous Route 66 was rerouted to run directly through Albuquerque in 1937, and came to be known as the "City of Neon," boosting tourism and interest in New Mexico. Throughout the years, the city grew into a high-tech hub after the Kirtland Air Froce Base and Sandia National Labs were established.

Today, Albuquerque flawlessly meshes its high-tech, modern downtown with its native western heritage. This tie to its roots is evident throughout Albuquerque, no matter what you choose to do there.
Source: via Jill on Pinterest

One of the most appealing aspects of the city is its rugged terrain and scenic views, which can be seen from the Sandia Mountains or the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. You can also hop on a hot-air balloon ride--Albuquerque is known for them--that will take you over the Rio Grande Valley. The area boasts dozens of hiking and biking trails, so if you like the outdoors, this is perfect for you. I for one love to get
out and explore when I visit a new city, and I also love being able to get a good workout in while on vacation. So going for a hike in the mountains is the perfect way to see the sites and get in my cardio.

Other attractions vary from the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the Museum of Art and History, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, the Petroglyph National Monument, and the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum. Historic Old Town should certainly not be missed. It is the gem of the city, with beautiful gardens and serene paths that lead you to an eclectic collection of boutique shops selling items that are distinctly Southwestern. While there, venture over to San Felipe de Neri Church, the oldest building in the city.

One thing I cetainly enjoy doing when on vacation is sampling the local fare, and Albuquerque has a lot of distinct flavors that set it apart. The Southwestern cuisine is unique in that it combines Native American, Mexican and Spanish ingredients and cooking techniques. And the main ingredient is the chile pepper. Green chile is served over everything from burritos and relienos to cheeseburgers and stew. Red chile can come atop tamales, enchiladas or omelets.

And here's a little piece of information I didn't know, but there are a number of award-winning wineries in Albuquerque. Corrales Winery offers free tastings and tours where you can sample its winning Muscat Canelli dessert wine or its gold medal Cabernet Sauvignon. Anasazi Fields Winery is known for creating table wines crafted from fruits and berries other than grapes, producing plum wine, apricot wine, peach wine and blackberry wine--yum! You can also visit Casa Rondena Winery or Gruet Winery, two other amazing options to please the palate. I will definitely be hitting all four!

As you can see, Albuquerque certainly has a lot to offer. And with cheapr travel prices, there really is no reason not to check it out. (And if I had extra days off and a free weekend coming up, you know I would be booking my flight. But unfortunately, my life is a little too hectic right now. So if the prices are still good in a few months, I might have to look into a trip to Albuquerque.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Checking the Pollution Level of Your Flight

Want to know how much of an impact your flight is having on the environment?

A tech firm, Brighter Planet, developed an app, Careplane, that uploads into your browser. So when you search for flights online, the app calculates pollution from each flight based on historic flight data, like plane weight, the average percentage of filled seats and fuel efficiency. The app will deliver the total number of pounds of greenhouse gases produced by the flight you select.

So, a nonstop flight from Los Angeles to the San Jose airport on a regional jet generates 618 pounds of greenhouse gases. While Los Angeles to San Francisco on a larger airline will create 730 pounds of pollution, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

I'm not sure how much pollution plays a factor in which flight you choose, but its an interesting idea.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

If You Can't Make it to Oktoberfest

Munich. Credit: LonelyPlanet
Oktoberfest. That magical time at the beginning of fall where everyone dresses in lederhosen--or something close to it--and the beer flows like wine, or like beer, depending on your preference for alcohol. I have experienced a number of Oktberfest events, but sadly have never made it to the big show. You know the one I mean. The infamous Munich celebration has been within my reach once before, but never attained. (Fool that I am, I let the fact that I didn't have a hotel room stop me. A real trooper would have made due and found anywhere to spend the night, a park bench, a train station, another person's hostel room floor. Or better yet, not sleep at all. It is Oktoberfest right?) Anyway, of the items on my bucket list--and there are a lot--'Go to Oktoberfest' is not checked off, but hopefully that will change sometime in the near future.

Salvator Beer. Credit: bargaintraveleurope
If you have been unable to make it to Munich for Oktoberfest, or you have had the privilege to experience it and want to try something else, why not go for Starkbierzeit? It means "strong beer time" and is the lesser known beer festival in Germany. Usually taking place in March, it is a two-week long Lenten drinking festival that seems anything but religious. And yet is does have monastic roots. Now before you judge or write it off as a more reserved and traditional celebration than Oktoberfest, hear me out. The Paulaner monks produced the original doppelbock called Salvator. They brewed it to help with, get this, "liquid nourishment" during Lent, since they had to fast for 40 days. (Good thing we aren't that extreme anymore.) So you can imagine this stuff had to be pretty full-bodied and strong to sustain these guys for that period of time.

At Starkbierzeit, as the name suggests, people drink stronger beer. The meal-in-a-bottle, or "liquid bread," as it can be called, has an alcohol content of 7.5%, but can be as high as 9%. Compare that to the Marzen-style served at Oktoberfest, which has an ABV level between 5% and 6%. Needless to say, you will not lose out on beer or the guarantee of intoxicated bliss (or beligerance.)

Lowenbraukeller. Credit:
During the festival, which the locals call the "fifth season," people flock to the beer halls to enjoy a variety of different kinds of doppelbock, as well as traditional food and entertainment. The most famous and popular spot is Paulaner Keller, which stands on the highest point of the city. Salvator is served in ceramic mugs and a brass band plays Bavarian marches and pop classics. Beer maids wander about the hall serving beer, grilled chicken, sausages, pig knuckles and pretzels.

Other breweries and beer halls created their own doppelbock's, including Lowenbrau, which serves up a sweet, but deadly, brew called Triumphator. The brewery's Lowenbraukeller is also a popular place to go to enjoy the festivities, and on certain nights entertainment includes boulder-lifting. (Not sure that's the safest activity, but it is what it is.) At Weisses Brauhaus, the beer festival offering is Aventinus Weizenstarkbier, a stronger version of wheat beer, if the lighter brews are more your taste--like me.

Starkbierzeit is not just a mini version of Oktoberfest, but it is also a celebration of spring. It's a way for locals to shake off the cold chills of the winter months and embrace the warm weather and sunshine of the season. And really what better way to do that then to drink? If you think about it, that's what St. Patrick's Day is, a wonderful party to celebrate a new season--although it's a bit more well known than Starkbierzeit.

Another great aspect of this festival is that I don't have to be worried about the rooming situation. Since it isn't as widely publicized as Oktoberfest, there aren't as many tourists, which means less crowds and more available hotel rooms. That seems like a great alternative to me.

Credit: Food from Bavaria
Don't get me wrong, I still plan on going to Oktoberfest at some point in my life--sooner rather than later, hopefully. However, Starkbierzeit might just be another beer fest that I add to my list.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sorry For the Absense

I realize I have been absent over the last couple weeks, and I apologize for that. Things have been pretty crazy in my life, lots of freelance work--which, lets be honest, is never a bad thing--and also a lot going on at my full time job. And while I would usually use my weekends to work on blogging, I have found the last few have been unbelievably busy. But I am making a promise right now to get back into my blogging swing and get some post up before the end of the month...though the days seem to be ticking by at an insanely fast rate.

To keep you somewhat satisfied until I get a full fledged post up here, I will provide a couple fun websites and articles I found recently.

If you want to find all your travel essentials in the proper carry-on size, check out this website:

In honor of my fast-approaching trip to Vegas, here is an interesting article about what you can get from room service in Sin City

There is a new hotel opening in Chicago that's right in my neighborhood, and there will soon be a rooftop bar opening...and I always love a good rooftop in summer.

What's a popular attraction or activity for people visiting cities? Hitting a brewery or distillery for a tour and tastings.

I know it's not much, but I will definitely be putting up some more elaborate and lengthy posts in the coming week. Stay tuned!!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Race into Spring

On a day when temperatures reached near-record highs for early March, I had the privilege of going for my first run outside in...well...a long time. And it felt amazing. For someone who loves running, especially outside, Spring not only brings on more favorable weather, but also marks the beginning of race season. I already have a slate of 8k and 5k runs coming up in the next couple months, as well as my half marathon in July, and I am definitely excited to take those on in stride.

Knowing my passion for running, my good friend B sent me a link about destination races. Combining my two passions, fitness and travel, these are right up my ally. She clearly knows me well.

I always encourage my readers to explore a new place on foot, since walking around a city can lead you to discover a slew of places you could have missed from the confines of a car or tour bus. So why not step it up to the next level and take a running tour. Admittedly, a race isn't exactly a tour, but you can certainly see a lot as you jog through city streets, or mountainous terrains, or rocky coastal regions.

The Avia Wildflower Triathlons take place at Lake San Antonio in California in the heart of the Big Sur region. There are three race options to choose from: Long Course, Olympic Distance, and Mountain Bike. On top of all the excitement of the competitions, participants get to enjoy camping, wine tasting, live bands and gourmet food during the three day event, scheduled for May 4-6, 2012. I am not much of a triathlete, seeing as my swimming skills are not great and I'm kind of a slower biker. But I would definitely head over to this event just for the festivities and the scenery.

The Carlsbad 5000 is more my style. Known as the fastest 5k, the race takes place in Southern California along the coast, providing runners with a fun and scenic course. Sixteen world records have been set during the race's 27-year history, and the organizers are always eager to see if another can be broken. I consider myself a fast runner, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be breaking any records. Still, it would be fun to try my hand at this race, especially since all runners are rewarded with two free beers at the Pizza Port Beer Garden afterwards. Obviously, there are also some healthy options, since most runners are health nuts. The race provides bananas, oranges, muffins, popchips and cereal from Cascadian Farms.

Source: via Vanessa on Pinterest

For something completely different, the Snowshoe the Bear race in Big Bear Lake, California, challenges runners to not only compete in the cold and snow, but also with snow shoes strapped to their feet. Talk about crazy. Still, it sounds like a fun and exciting race. This is the kind of run where coming in first or achieving the best time would not be a priority. No, I think the focus would be to not die. I've only ever snow shoed a couple times in my life, and in those cases I was walking, and not very fast. This would be a great opportunity to simply enjoy the surroundings, as well as the after party.

Off road terrain running can be a great way to challenge your body, but is also super fun. The Down 2 Earth Endurance races, which take place near Miami Beach, Florida, offer a variety of different options, from triathlons and duathlons to 5k and 10k obstacle courses. But be prepared before you sign up for these races, since their motto is "No Whiners!"

Source: via Vanessa on Pinterest

Back in my home state, the Devil Mountain Ultra Marathon is an incredibly trying race and is known as one of the toughest in the country. While you can certainly try to the 50-mile or 50k trail run that weaves through the Rocky Mountains, you can also opt for the much less intense half marathon. For those who want to step up their game, the course visits several areas west of Turkey Springs, Chris Mountain, Middle Mountain, Horse Mountain and Devil Mountain. Climbs top out at just over 9,800 feet, with more than 5,000 feet of vertical gain in the 50k and 8,300 feet in the 50 mile. So be prepared to hit an altitude high and be sure to stay hydrated.

Now who wouldn't want to run in the exotic, peaceful ambiance of Hawaii. Well, I certainly would. And if I ever decide to run a full marathon, maybe this is the one I'll chose. The Kaua'i Marathon is ranked as one of the top road races in the U.S., and why wouldn't it be? The course follows along the coastline, giving runners great views of the beaches, volcanic peaks and tropical rain forests. There is a gradual climb up to the top of Kalaheo, but I'm sure participants barely notice it thanks to the gorgeous scenery that surrounds them.

Source: via Vanessa on Pinterest
To finish things off, why not try a run through a theme park? The Walt Disney World Marathon has become one of the most popular events of the year. It takes place right after New Years in Orlando, Florida, and offers a full weekend of Disney fun. Athletes can participate in a Family 5k on Friday, the half marathon on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday. Not only do you get to run through Disney World, but characters will be situated along the course, and runners can stop and take pictures with them. The Princess Half marathon takes place a month after the marathon, and is celebrates women's health and fitness. If I were to take part in this, I would totally dress up like Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

I certainly hope these inspired some of you to try a destination race, I know I definitely interested in registering for a few of these next year. And if you choose not to go anywhere, but would still like to run around your home town...go right ahead. If you need more motivation, sign up for a 5k, there are hundreds being held throughout the rest of the year. There's nothing stopping you, but you.