Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Discovering the mountains and forests of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park in Washington is filled with myriad wonders. It’s a huge park at almost a million acres—really three parks in one with diverse geography encompassing mountains, seashore, and rain forest.  That was enough to entice us to visit last September, and our discoveries of nature in this splendid place remain as cherished memories.
My husband Larry and I and friend Deb flew from Texas to Seattle, rented a car, and started our road trip that would also include Mt. Rainier National Park. Our destination the first night was Port Angeles, which would be our kick-off point for the first part of the journey—in the massive Olympic Mountains.

Hurricane Ridge is the iconic feature that everyone wants to visit, so naturally Hurricane Ridge Road is the most popular scenic road in the park. That was our destination on arrival—and the must-see spot if you only have one day to spend there.
A visit to Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center at the edge of Port Angeles, the nearest city to the national park, gave us an overview of the topography. Then we drove for 20 miles where the road curved and climbed into a mountain zone and then into a sub-alpine region at 5,000 feet.

The first 10 miles or so featured tall Douglas fir trees before adding silver fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar. As we gained elevation, the trees became sorter and clumped together more in a thick forest.  Although some wildflowers were still blooming, we were past prime time (mid-summer) to see paintbrush, lilies, and heather in open meadows.
That was a quick trip, but two days later, when the persistent fog had cleared, we returned to Hurricane Ridge to take a couple of hikes. Near the visitor center, we first tackled the short but uphill trek to Sunrise Point. At the top of the hill views of mountains and landscapes were enveloped in a residual haze from forest fire smoke.

After a snack at a picnic area (gotta fuel up for the next trek!), we rounded out the morning with the Hurricane Hill hike—3.2 miles round trip on an uphill path with elevation gain of 700 feet.  The path was well-maintained and paved at the beginning, but it became quite steep as it traveled to (and past) the tree line, ending at 5757 feet, the highest accessible point in Olympic National Park.
During the last mile switchbacks lead to the summit, slowing down our pace a bit. Of course, taking time to enjoy spectacular views of Port Angeles and the ocean beyond also gave us time to catch our breath. Although the day was sunny and pleasant with temperature in the 60s, the gauzy haze affected our ability to see more of the Olympic Mountains. Had we known exactly where to look on a clear day, we might have recognized Vancouver Island, the Cascade Mountain Range, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier.

Although we  watched for grazing deer, the only wildlife we saw was one marmot. Still, it was a fun hike that took a little over two hours to complete—not bad considering how often we stop to take pictures. During the following week we experienced more of Olympic's dynamic landscapes and understood completely why it was named a national park in 1938 and attracts so many repeat visitors.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, February 11, 2017

National park passes are a great bargain

Much attention was paid to America’s national parks during 2016, the centennial year of the National Park Service. These destinations are truly America’s greatest idea, and I encourage all my readers to visit at least one national park, forest, seashore, or monument each year.

Lifetime passes to America’s national parks for senior citizens and Americans with disabilities are available at any of the country’s more than 400 federal recreation sites that come under protection of the National Park Service. You can also get these passes through the mail, which may be more convenient for some people.

"National parks are places to share with children, grandchildren, and other family members” says National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “They facilitate recreation and healthy living. Many parks, including Yellowstone, Shenandoah, and Denali, have trails that are accessible to people with limited mobility and to wheelchair users. We also have many accessible camping and picnic areas," Jarvis adds.

Senior passes are available for $10.00 to citizens age 62 or older. Access passes are free for people who have permanent disabilities regardless of age. U. S. Military and their dependents also qualify for free annual passes that provide admission to, and use of, federal recreation sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees. Pass users also receive a small discount in gift shops and a 50% discount on some fees for activities like camping and launching a boat.

You can print out an application for a senior or access pass at Once the application package is received and the documentation verified, the pass will be mailed to you. There is a $10 processing fee to receive a pass by mail but no additional fee if you purchase the pass at a park.

Anyone can purchase an annual pass for $80 that covers the owner and three accompanying adults over age 16 (there’s no charge for children 15 and younger) This pass is good for one year at all parks that charge an entrance fee—still a good bargain, especially if you live near one of the popular parks or plan a vacation to several at a time.

The next fee-free day for the 120 national parks that normally charge an entrance fee is February 20, 2017, Presidents Day. Fee-free days provide a great opportunity to discover a new park or visit an old favorite. Keep in mind that some sites are always free.

For more information, visit or Learn more at

Photos by Beverly Burmeier and free sites

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Be happy--plan an adventure

Go ahead—take that vacation! It’s the healthy thing to do.
The personal benefits of travel have been widely studied, but Americans get the least amount of vacation time among countries in the industrialized world, according to a study by the U.S. Travel Association.  Even when allowed unlimited vacation time, a trend more corporations are adopting, most people don’t take as much time off as they should.

There are several reasons why vacation time can help you live longer and happier.
Relaxing on a lovely beach makes a healthy vacation.
Health benefits: Research shows that an annual vacation can cut a person’s risk of heart attack by 50 percent. Even a short holiday can bring down blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of stress hormones. Active leisure time directly contributes to higher levels of physical and mental health—with a bonus that travelers sleep better.

Anticipation: Other research has shown that the path to happiness is paved with planning and waiting for an event to happen.  For some people, planning a trip or adventure is almost as much fun as actually going. It puts your brain in overdrive with anticipation. Some people might even hold off on an experience so they can savor thinking about it longer.
So many places to drive or hike--plan your activities.
Enjoyment: A study from Cornell University shows that people who spend discretionary income on experiences such as travel are happier than when buying material goods. Think how happy society as a whole could be if people focused on getting away from routine more.

Relationships: Studies show that 40 percent of travelers feel more romantic on vacation, and more than half of working Americans say they come back from a vacation feeling reconnected with their family.
Improve work performance: Spending time away from the office, especially by traveling, also helps prevent burnout and improves performance after returning from a vacation. By relieving stress, time away reduces absences, increases efficiency, and helps you bring a fresh approach to work issues.

Discover new places like the Wynwood Arts district in Miami.
Memories: Think about the pleasure you get from talking about and sharing experiences with others afterwards (got a stack of photos or videos to show?). The Cornell University study supports the pleasurable memory factor since it found that people get more retrospective enjoyment and satisfaction from experiential purchases than from material purchases.
Reconnect with loved ones during
shared experiences.
Life satisfaction: Even planning vacation travel generates an increase in positive feelings about one’s life, family, economic situation, and health.  Looking forward to an event often opens up a person for conversation and can help lift depression of people dealing with emotional traumas. Spending time at pleasant vacation locations, exercising during vacation, and making new acquaintances helps people keep their lives in balance.

With all those benefits, what are you waiting for? It’s time to start planning your next trip!
Photos by Larry and  Beverly Burmeier

Monday, January 30, 2017

What traveling to Antarctica meant to me

When friends asked several years ago if I wanted to go to Antarctica, the world's southernmost continent, I said, “No way. I don’t like to be cold.”  In Texas we have mild winters with few freezes and rare snowfalls.
Such variety in size, shape, and texture of icebergs.
But eventually we booked a trip to Antarctica that is certainly one of the most inspiring and fascinating journeys this traveler has ever experienced.

Keep in mind 2/3 of the enormous iceberg is under water.
Change of heart
Every time I saw pictures of pristine blue-tinged icebergs, the enormous expanse of glacial whiteness, and enchanting penguins and seals, I had a longing to be there: To take my own photos of the incredibly beautiful scenes. To experience an environment totally different from anything I had known before. To feel the sacred sensation of solitude surrounding the extraordinary landscapes.

Penguins were delightful entertainers.
Although we think of Antarctica as being isolated, almost 35,000 people travel there during the season that runs from November through March. Despite increased accessibility, polar travel still seems as surprising and awe-inspiring to new visitors as when the first explorers came to this frozen land.
The magic of Antarctica

The feelings I had on first viewing the dramatic landscapes of the white continent were unexpectedly intense. Pristine ice and undulating snow stretching as far as the eye could see were simply indescribable. Standing by myself on shore, I silently admired the spectacle of a beach teeming with playful penguins, heard the crack of a glacier calving, and admired the multiple brilliant blues found in immense icebergs.
Our first continental landing was totally impressive.
The connection with raw nature encompassed my imagination as I struggled to envision people living and working on this inhospitable continent with its unpredictable climate. I was truly out of my comfort zone but enjoyed every minute that stretched me from being just a visitor to becoming an explorer.

It was also warmer than expected, so my parka came off.
I loved hiking to high points overlooking bays filled with icebergs, elephant seals, and sea lions. I breathed deeply of the pure, clean, cold air surrounding us as we  surveyed steep , rocky cliffs jutting up from the ice-speckled ocean or rumbled into a frozen cave in our Zodiac.
Gorgeous reflections just before sunset.
Shore excursions are highly restricted regarding the number of people allowed to be on land at any given time, and that’s a good thing. You’ll never encounter hoards of people trying to claim the best photo spots. Additional restrictions are in place to protect the environment and to ensure safety around the ice--and that often precludes large cruise ships from making an actual continental landing. Being there myself reinforced how important it is to protect and preserve this incredible environment.
Icebergs are continually changing shape--and sometimes holes appear.
Surviving the cold

Quark, our expedition company, provided parkas (ours to keep) and muck boots (on loan), but the rest of our warm clothing was up to us. For this Texas gal that meant extra purchases of wool underwear, socks, gloves, hats, fleece, and pants. I came prepared and was never uncomfortably cold, even though we were out in the elements for several hours each day. (Expedition participants from northern states were not fazed by temps in the 20s).

Seals enjoy sunning on a relatively flat iceberg.
Adventure and discovery become the norm that we looked forward to during daily Zodiac excursions, not to mention the thrill of actually crossing the Antarctic Circle (most expeditions just touch the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula). What could be more exciting than that?
Whales are another form of wildlife often seen in Antarctica.
I came away from this life-changing journey overwhelmed by the immensity of this unspoiled, wild, rugged land—a land many countries including U.S. are researching to learn how environmental change might affect the continent and subsequently the rest of the world.
View from the window of our room on the Quark expedition ship.
Antarctica is filled with infinite opportunities and daring demands on those who seek to understand its allure. I'll forever be grateful for having traveled there, walking on Antarctic soil, and embracing the wild forces of nature found nowhere else in the world.
 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fun adventure in the Everglades

Riding a bicycle in Shark Valley gets you up close and personal with the “river of grass.”

A visit to Everglades NationalPark in Florida, the largest subtropical wilderness in the country, can be overwhelming because of its sheer size and the remoteness of many trails (both water and land).  But Shark Valley offers an excellent way to experience the park, especially if you like to explore on your own. Rent a bike (or bring your own) and peddle your way along a loop road through this northern section of the park.
The bike trail in Shark Valley is not a difficult ride.
With only slight elevation changes and no rough terrain to navigate, the scenic 15-mile paved road is ideal for bike riders of all ages.  The journey typically takes about three hours, depending on how often you stop and whether a gusty head wind crops up.  At the half-way point, in the heart of this unique ecosystem, the Observation Tower provides a convenient place to pause and enjoy panoramic views. 

To get a feel for the significance of this region, plan to ride the entire loop (if your fitness level allows), but check to be sure it’s open all the way since the curvy east portion, with expansive sawgrass prairie, is flooded and impassable at times. 
Be respectful of alligators in their natural habitat, and don't venture
too close.

 Alligators sunning themselves, as they lie partly on the road and partly in the marsh, provide perfect photo opportunities if you keep your distance—10-15 feet away is recommended.  Raccoons, white-tailed deer, turtles, frogs, otters, and other wildlife may also appear near the road or on hiking trails. 
Stop to soak in beautiful views
and reflections.
Start on the western side of the loop road, which is fairly straight, butts up against the wetlands, and hosts the greatest variety of wildlife and plants.

Birds including egrets, ibises, ospreys, herons, cardinals, warblers, mockingbirds, and hawks catch your attention as they wade through marshes and then suddenly zip into the air.  If you spot a bird camouflaged among the grasses and tree branches and want to take a picture, don’t hesitate: quickly snap the shutter before it flies away.  Some larger species wander along the road, but they don’t linger when humans are around.
  Butterflies flit around the blooms, and don’t be surprised if one hovers just inches from your face.

Bird watching is a popular pastime on the trail.
Tiny flowers in pastel hues—white, pink, yellow, and purple--grow along the swamp’s edge.

Riding with a tail wind, the road uncoils beneath your wheels with amazing speed, and mile markers printed on the road pass quickly. However, it’s not uncommon for wind gusts or summer thunderstorms to appear, especially in the afternoon, so the trip could take longer after reaching the midway point.  If you decide not to ride the entire loop, retrace your path because there aren’t any shortcuts.
The Observation Tower offer expansive views of the surrounding area.
 Highlight of the ride is spectacular 360-degree views of wetlands, prairie, and trees seen from the 45-foot high Observation Tower. Views change as you walk along the elevated spiral ramp to the platform, so take time to enjoy scenes like blackbirds perched on railings cawing back and forth to each other and Monet-like reflections of clouds fluttering across the shallow, liquid meadow.  Besides allowing an overview of the ecosystem, the Tower offers tranquil vistas of the Everglades up to 20 miles in all directions.

Larry pedals along the Shark Valley bike trail in Everglades
National Park in Florida
Ride during cooler morning hours; take water and a light snack as there are no concessions once you leave the Visitors Center, located on Hwy 41, 46 miles from Fort Lauderdale.

Tram rides are also available in Shark Valley.
If riding a bicycle isn’t your style, the Shark Valley Tram offers a two-hour, open air tour on the same path.  Trained naturalists point out wildlife and narrate information about the park. 

One of three entrances to the national park, Shark Valley is a significant area for sustaining the park’s biological abundance and diversity.  Because of its worldwide significance, Everglades National Park has been designated a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance. 
For more information, visit 

Photos by Beverly Burmeier



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Travel smart with Trusted Traveler programs

If your future travel plans include flying somewhere, this might be the perfect time to apply for one of the Trusted Traveler programs. Long lines at security can result in a rough start to your trip, with tempers tested long before you actually board an airplane. But you do have options.
The Department of Homeland Security sponsors several programs including TSA Pre-check, Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI. Each has its own eligibility requirements and application fees, so you need to determine which works best for your needs.

TSA Pre-check: The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) manages and operates TSA Pre-check, an expedited security screening process. Upon approval, you can move through security more quickly and easily in a dedicated line, which is almost always shorter than the regular security line. The line generally moves faster because you don’t have to take off shoes or jacket or put your baggie of liquids or computer in the bin, which saves a lot of time.

This is valid for departures from more than 150 participating U.S. airports. Because TSA randomly selects non-enrolled travelers for this privilege, you could be lucky and get Pre-check occasionally without paying the $85 fee (good for five years), but with TSA Pre-check you’re almost always guaranteed a spot in the short line.

You can pre-enroll online, then visit an enrollment center to verify ID and provide fingerprints.

Global Entry: If you travel both within the U.S. and internationally, your best bet is Global Entry. A five-year membership is only $100. This program provides expedited processing through customs at airports and land borders upon arrival into the U.S.  Trust me, after you’ve endured a long flight to get back on American soil, you’ll be relieved to skip the long lines at customs.
For Global Entry, you will also have to schedule a personal interview (can take weeks or months in some locations) and must provide a passport or permanent resident card.

NEXUS: U.S. and Canadian citizens or permanent residents of either country can apply for NEXUS, an expedited process for airports and land borders between those two countries. Application is similar to Global Entry, and a five-year membership is $50.  It includes Global Entry and TSA Pre-check for travel between those two countries.
SENTRI: Travelers frequently arriving in the U.S. from Mexico, should consider enrolling in SENTRI. The process is similar to NEXUS, and the program requires proof of citizenship and admissibility documentation. Five-year membership fee is $122.25.

Be a smart traveler: Once you have received approval for any of these programs, be sure to enter your Known Traveler Number or PASS-ID into the passenger information section for the airlines you’ll be traveling on, or provide that number to any agent or company that books flights for you. I also double check before checking in for a flight to make sure that number is correctly and currently noted at the airline’s website. If for some reason, it isn’t, you won’t get the benefits due you—and the agent at the airport can’t change the notification (or lack of it) on your ticket.

Photos from free sources

Friday, January 6, 2017

Tips for safe winter travel

Whether you are flying or gearing up for a road trip to visit relatives, Better Business Bureau has advice to help ensure safe travels during the cold and unpredictable winter season.
If you plan on driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends getting your car serviced before you hit the road, especially if you anticipate traveling in inclement weather, like snow and ice. Visit your mechanic for a tune-up and have your entire vehicle thoroughly checked.

Before you hit the highway or tarmac this holiday season, BBB recommends that travelers:
Check out the business first. Whether you’re looking for a trustworthy travel agency, hotel, resort or auto mechanic, check out a company’s BBB Business Profile

Create a vehicle safety kit. Prepare for bad weather by creating your own safety kit. Basics for the kit include blankets, a flashlight with extra batteries, a radio, a first aid kit, jumper cables, non-perishable foods like granola bars and nuts, bottled water, an ice scraper and warm gloves.
Research last-minute travel deals. Bargains on airfare or a hotel may be tempting, but be cautious when booking on an unknown travel website or through an online advertisement. Common travel-related complaints to BBB reported trouble with reservations, online advertisements and incorrect charges. Be sure you understand all anticipated charges, so you can compare prices with confidence.

Consider travel insurance if flying. You may want to purchase travel insurance when booking a flight for peace of mind, protection from the unexpected and concern over losing the financial investment in a trip. Also, check with your credit card company, as some offer travel insurance as a perk if you use the card when booking a flight.
Understand extra fees.

  • Baggage fees: Some airlines charge to check bags. If a bag check-in is free, bags weighing over 50 pounds may cost you more.
  • Pet fees: Most airlines accept pets if they are kenneled, but the charge is usually around $100.
  • Ticket changes: Plans can change, but keep in mind that your travel cost was determined by your original departure and arrival times. Changing your plans may cost extra.
  • Hotel fees: Some  hotels charge extra fees for room service and Wi-Fi. Read the fine print when booking a hotel, and save your receipts.
Information courtesy of Esther Robards-Forbes, Public Relations Manager 

Photos from free sources.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Celebrate with bubbly in Sonoma County, California

If your idea of a perfect celebration involves the sound of a cork popping, a trip to Sonoma County, California, should be on your bucket list. Sonoma is an ideal grape growing region for California “champagne” and produces delicious sparkling wines in red, white, and rosé. To taste some of the region’s best bubbly, sign up for a Sonoma champagne tour.
Private Tours

Champagne is perfect for
toasting special occasions.
Sonoma Wine Tours offers a variety of private wine tours as well as a fabulous champagne tour through Sonoma County’s hidden cellars. Guests can enjoy a 4-5 hour journey through J Vineyards, Iron Horse, Korbel, and Roderer and sip some great bubbly along the way. Sonoma Wine Tours will customize your tour to fit your specific preferences and tastes.
Public Tours

Korbel Champagne Cellars: Korbel is well known for their sparkling wine. Visitors can take a free 50-minute tour through the historic champagne cellars in Sonoma County and then enjoy a tasting of Korbel’s finest products. The winery offers private guided tours by appointment.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards: Gloria Ferrer is a Spanish-style winery that produces sparkling Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It was the first sparkling wine house in the Sonoma Carneros AVA and now has over 335 acres of vineyards. The winery offers public, private, and group tours of their caves and sparkling wine facility. After the tour, order a glass or flight of sparkling wine to enjoy by the fire or on the veranda.

Vineyards in Sonoma County, CA grow grapes for a variety of
wines, including champagne.
J Vineyards: This winery is located in the Russian River Valley AVA and was named the “Best Winery Tasting Room in the West” by Sunset Magazine. Guests can enjoy a one-hour vineyard tour followed by a tasting of sparkling and varietal wines. You’ll visit the fermentation room, barrel room, bottling areas, and the Crush Pad where grapes are pressed. Tours are $30 per person and begin at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily.
Iron Horse Vineyards: Iron Horse is a beautiful family-owned winery that’s situated on a hilltop in Sebastopol, CA. The sparkling wines produced here have been served at the White House for over 30 years. Stop by the outdoor tasting room to try five estate wines against a stunning backdrop of Sonoma and Mt. St. Helena. Or, sign up for the VIP tour and tasting for a behind-the-scenes look at the sparkling wine production process.

Stay at Honor Mansion

Honor Mansion in Healdsburg provides guests with elegance,
comfort, and wonderful breakfasts.
While visiting Sonoma wine country, stay at Honor Mansion, a luxurious Healdsburg bed and breakfast. Following your wine tour enjoy late afternoon refreshments sampling an assortment of delicious local wines and scrumptious hors d’oeuvres each day. In the morning, you’ll wake up to a delicious gourmet breakfast—and be ready to take on California Wine Country all over again. 
Information courtesy of Honor Mansion, Healdsburg, California

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a study in changing natural environments

We love America’s national parks, so it’s not surprising that we managed to visit three in one day on a West Coast road trip.
After visiting Yosemite National Park in California, which we believe is one of the most beautiful places in the world, we headed towards Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. Along the way, we stopped for a couple of hours at Lassen Volcanic NationalPark in northeastern California.

Mt. Lassen reflection in Lake Helen in Lassen Volcanic National
Park in Californa
 A lesser-known destination, this park clearly shows how the earth’s surface is constantly evolving. It provides an area for geologic study of ever-changing thermal areas as well as showcasing long-ago volcanic activity and subsequent recovery of nature.
Mud pots boil with steaming
sulfur-infused water in Lassen
Volcanic National Park.
First-time visitors will want to take the 30-mile diving tour on the main park road as we did. Along the way we stopped to view hydrothermal features like fumaroles, boiling mud pots, steaming sulfur springs, and three of the four types of volcanoes in the world. At Sulphur Works we watched superheated ground water bubbling to the surface. Boardwalks lead to many of the ecological sites, and it’s best to stay on the trail since these molten regions have been known to collapse.

Clear, sparkling water of shallow Emerald Lake, a glacial U-shaped pool at the base of a mountain, gets its green color from algae growing at the bottom.  It makes a wonderful photo opp.
Emerald Lake sparkles in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
A little further down the road, we stopped to admire the gorgeous azure water of Lake Helen. A true alpine lake, it is 110 feet deep and frozen most of the year. During our July visit the ice had melted, but given the cold temperature of the water, we enjoyed colorful mountain reflections and resisted the temptation to wade in. And there was still snow on the ground in places—an ironic sight for shorts-clad visitors like us.

Snow in July!
Hiking trails scattered throughout the park attract visitors who come to learn about, explore, and appreciate the unusual landscape.  Some trails lead to hidden lakes, but lakes like Emerald and Helen are easily accessible from the road. Since our time there was limited, we stuck to sights near the main park road.
Lassen Peak, at more than 10,000 feet tall, provides a beautiful backdrop for a landscape created by volcanic activity.  Seeing what remains today, you can muse about Lassen’s eruption in 1915 which blew a mushroom cloud of ash seven miles into the sky.

This park may not “wow” you with gorgeous scenery found in other national parks, but it’s worth visiting to observe the interesting geology and geography that is being preserved. And take a hike if you have time. Meadows filled with wildflowers are lovely in spring and summer.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

6 tech tips for international travelers

Today's guest post is by Adam Ferraresi, a Dallas-based web developer at

Holiday traveling may seem like a nightmare today, but a hundred years ago, it was truly a horror. As the Daily Mail reports, if a UK traveler wanted to make a trip to Australia or New Zealand, the journey would take at least 40 days. Things have dramatically changed in the 21st century, and it only takes a couple of hours to travel to a different continent. So it is no wonder that, according to the 2015 UNWTO Tourists Highlight Report, a staggering 1.1 billion people traveled overseas just last year.

Just ten years ago, most of us were looking forward to spending time from our homes unconnected, but in 2016 technology is a vital part of every trip. Therefore, it has become essential that we can access the Internet wherever we are and whenever we want. But many questions pup up in your mind when thinking about using technology overseas: How much will everything cost? What are the risks? What plans do I need? So here are six tips that hopefully will help you get the most out of using your favorite devices on the road.

1.      Put Your Phone into Airplane Mode

Your smartphone is your biggest hassle when you are out of the country, simply because it can load you down with international roaming bills. And when you are overseas, everything from calls to being connected to the internet comes with a huge price tag. In order to save money, put your phone into airplane mode as soon as you get on an airplane. Turn off roaming and cellular data for the duration of your trip.

2.      Pick up a Local SIM As Soon As You Land 

If you have an unlocked phone, and it’s not essential for you to have your exact number during the course of your vacation, you should pick up a local, pre-paid SIM card. Do some research before you choose your local provider, but don’t worry about it too much because you will probably be able to pick a SIM up right at the airport.
3.      Be Careful with Wi-Fi

We love free Wi-Fi, but you have to be alert at all times, because cybercriminals set up “rouge hotspots” all over the world with the sole purpose of stealing data. Most of them have names that mimic well-known Wi-Fi networks like McDonalds or Starbucks, so they can fool you into connecting. Once you establish a connection, criminals can collect your data without you even knowing that it is happening.
4.      Use a VPN for Data Transfers

You can also avoid the risks of using public hotspots by being strict with the networks you connect to, but doing that is both inconvenient and time-consuming. The simple solution is Virtual Private Network. This handy piece of software allows you to securely connect to any public hotspot by encrypting your data and thus protecting you from malicious data collection. There are free options, but a high-speed VPN such as ExpressVPN will not only keep your data safe, but it will also provide you with an additional layer of security for less than ten dollars a month.
5.      Download a Ton of Offline Apps

Your phone might be limited if you don’t have 24/7 Internet access, but you can still carry a lot of helpful information that will be a huge asset on international trips. You can easily download and load up Google maps before you go, and maps will stay in memory for 30 days. However, the offline version is only available to Android users. If you’re an iPhone user, there are other apps like MapsWithMe that provide everything you need without an Internet connection.
6.      Pack a Power Adapter

If you're carrying multiple high-tech gadgets on your trip, remember that some locations will not have the same kind of power outlets you have at home. So pick up a power adapter designed for the country you are visiting, or if you plan on doing a lot of international travel, pick up an adapter that works in multiple countries. If that is the case, the Ceptics Grounded Adapter is great choice.
Remember--if you cannot find the right hotspot or be sure that your private information is safe at all times, your smartphone will be nothing more than dead weight in your pocket.

Photos supplied by Adam Ferraresi





Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holiday lights and Rudolph at Sea World San Antonio

5 Million Sparkling Lights Create the Largest Christmas Illumination in Texas

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer leads the way to Christmas joy under the glow of five million holiday lights at SeaWorld San Antonio’s Christmas Celebration.  Through Jan 1, SeaWorld San Antonio has been transformed into a winter wonderland with the largest lighted Christmas display in Texas.

Holiday lighting vignettes will be held throughout the 250 acres of the park including Tower of Light, Christmas Cove, Snowman Village, and Caribbean Christmas. Holiday entertainment will feature Clyde & Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas, the Merry Mariachies, Christmas Navitity Story, and Dolphin Christmas.

New holiday programs include Dine with Rudolph and Rudolph’s Christmas Town. SeaWorld will be adorned with carolers, holiday treats and traditions like Home for the Holidays with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and Shamu Christmas Miracles.  For a detailed activity list and to purchase specially priced Annual Passes, visit  

“No one loves Christmas more than Texans, and we intend to make this the biggest and brightest Christmas the Lone Star State has ever experienced,” said Carl Lum, park president.  “This year we are lighting up the night sky in a way that’s never before been seen by expanding from one million to five million twinkling lights and bringing back our signature lighted flagpole to make this the most festive and family focused holiday destination throughout Texas.  The SeaWorld elves are already hard at work creating magic around the park,” added Lum.  

As a part of the holiday celebration, SeaWorld and its hotel partners are offering guests benefits, including the Kids Stay and Play Free Christmas package. Priced from $89 per person, per night, guests enjoy one night of accommodations at a SeaWorld partner hotel and park admission valid for up to seven days.  For each adult purchasing the package, guests may also receive a free child ticket (ages 3-9) valid for up to 7 days.  Other perks include 20-percent off all-day dining, 20-percent off merchandise and a free game at the Games Center.  

For an additional charge guests can add a dining experience with Santa Claus or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This Christmas package is valid through Dec. 31, 2016. Reservations can be booked online at

SeaWorld San Antonio is open weekends through Dec. 17, as well as Christmas break, Dec. 17 through Jan. 1.  

Information courtesy of Rachel Pinner Trevino, De Berry Group, San Antonio, Texas . Photos: