Group Vacation Planning 101
If you typically only travel for work, get stressed out at airports or don't remember the last time you saw your friends, it may be time to consider taking a group vacation! Not only do many hotels offer better rates for groups, but now planning a group vacation has never been easier. Check out some of our favorite group vacation ideas below, and get ready to enjoy traveling again.
Make a Group Vacation Checklist
Packing — and deciding on an itinerary — will be a lot easier if you divide responsibility between parties. If you've got a foodie friend, let them be in charge of where you're going to have your meals. Your friend with a Master's Degree in history can finally put their degree to use by picking out the best museums in your destination. Fitness buff in your group? Have them check out walking tours in the area. Instead of bringing eight separate hairdryers, bottles of shampoo, and, of course, bottles of champagne, assign each person an "area" (toiletries, wine, quick snacks) of shareable supplies to cover. Cut down on your baggage weight and your cost! Check out one of the many lifestyle magazines that offer their own checklist of essential items made in travel size for easy access!
The Devil's in the Details
If you're wondering how to plan a group vacation, there are a lot of moving pieces to consider. It's best to come up with a budget ahead of time and make sure that it's reasonable for everyone — the last thing you want is to make a friend feel uncomfortable by selecting activities that are out of their price range. Apps like Venmo, which allow you to send your friends money, can help to keep everything organized and can make payment a breeze. Pick activities that interest your party, and remember, a lot of group traveling is all about compromise. Try to do at least one of the "must-do" activities on every person in your party's list. When in doubt, the old "raise your hand if..." technique tends to work well. Be sure to remember that everyone has different sleeping habits and patterns, and take that into consideration. It's ok to break up a few days and have your friends go in separate, smaller groups to check off a few things on your list. That way, the "early risers" won't waste half their days waiting for the night owls to wake up, and the night owls will actually be pleasant to travel with if they've had enough sleep.
Group vacations are surprisingly easy to plan, lots of fun and a great way to see more of the country while saving on many expenses. So get that group text going and plan your vacation!
Crafts to Entertain the Little Ones at Home or Away
This holiday season when you're on the road or staying in a hotel room for the night, keeping your children busy, safe and entertained can be a challenge. But if you're looking to book a vacation with your little ones, you shouldn't have to worry so much that you won't be able to enjoy your time off. That's where we come in. We've compiled a list of easy paper crafts for kids that are transportable and creative. Best of all, our selections of art and crafts for kids requires little cleanup, to keep your child entertained both on the way to and once you reach your destination.
A Peaceful Trip Peace Chain
If you have more than one child, you probably already know that the key to keeping them focused and quiet is to make everything a competition. Before you go on the road, cut out tons of thin paper strips, grab a tape dispenser, and put a few colored pencils or markers in a box. Whichever child can make it to a certain number of paper chain loops, wins. If you're looking for seasonal holiday crafts for kid entertainment, you can have them inscribe each paper chain strip with a festive message, Christmas wish or special phrase.
Looking for a transportable craft with absolutely no cleanup that will help your children work on their precision and keep them entertained for hours? Origami is one of the most fun and easy paper crafts you can think of. Buy a basic origami book, or simply let your children watch instructional YouTube videos on your iPad, and within no time, you’ll have them folding pretty paper into almost anything! Make sure you've selected a variety of colors and patterns for your origami paper, and encourage your children to really be creative and write special messages inside.
Let It Snow!
If you're in the mood for some holiday festivities, take a minute to crank up some Christmas tunes and let your children create their own snowflakes. Use sheets of plain white paper and safety scissors show your children how to snip their way to unique snowflakes that they can hang on a tree or give to their friends or teachers. Line the floor of your car with newspaper so you can quickly gather up the paper scraps and toss them out at the next rest stop. If you’re really brave, pack some glue and glitter so they can embellish their one-of-a-kind masterpieces once you’re settled in at the hotel.
Don't let your fear trying to keep your kiddos entertained, calm and quiet while on the road and at your destination stop you from traveling this holiday season. Whether you're looking for crafts that can be done in the car or in your hotel room, we've got you covered.
Great Family Reunion Winter Destinations
There's no reason that arguing over who should host the family reunion this year should ever lead to any cancelled get togethers or hurt feelings. If you and your brood just can’t seem to figure it out, why not make a new tradition and find one of many affordable family reunion destinations the whole family can agree on? This year, why not just book a group hotel block of rooms, relax and actually enjoy your family time.
Pine Mountain in Georgia
Some of the best family reunion lodging can be found in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Enjoy a peaceful ambiance in this neck of the woods that truly has something for everyone. From down home country cooking to the Wild Animal Safari, Pine Mountain is sure to entertain everyone in the family. You can find a butterfly center, an expansive botanical garden, hiking trails and even a circus for the kids — one thing you can all agree on is that nobody will be bored in Pine Mountain.
Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania
If you're looking for family reunion destinations that are geared more towards the winter months, don’t miss the breathtaking Poconos Mountain Range in Pennsylvania. Easy to access from New York and the surrounding areas, the whole family can enjoy skiing or snowboarding, and if you have little ones, there’s even a ski school. For those wanting to move at a bit of a slower pace, winter hiking and snowshoeing can satisfy those who truly love the cold — you can brave the winter weather to venture out into some of the country's most beautiful game trails and parks. There are also plenty of indoor climbing centers, and even paintball courses, to keep the kids entertained while the adult members of the family can relax with a cocktail or enjoy an après-ski glass of wine.
Great Lakes in Michigan
Another perfect family reunion destination? Consider somewhere with a lot of wide open space for hosting family talent shows, eating contests or simply running around! Areas surrounding the Great Lakes in Michigan, or even the lesser-known, hence much less crowded, Lower Herring Lake are ideal for families with lots of children who are old enough to entertain themselves with minimal supervision. Known for its cherry orchards, gorgeous views and spectacular sunsets, Michigan offers a myriad of activities for families, and is usually very open to larger crowds renting out a space. Golf enthusiasts will have no trouble at all finding an expansive, challenging golf course to play on in the area — while the children can take turns trying their hands at mini golf.
Families can be chaotic, but finding the right destination for your next family reunion doesn't need to be. With the right venue, food and, most importantly, attitude, your reunion is sure to be a success. Don't let the fear of arguing over who has to host the family reunion prevent you from having one — instead, bring your clan together and create a new tradition by traveling to a different destination every year.
Government and Military Travel Tips
If you have to travel as a government or military employee, those business trips and assignments can be long, exhausting and even chaotic. Traveling for any job has its ups and downs, but for military and government workers, there are somewhat different tips to follow to get the most out of your travels. Before you take off on assignment for the long or short term, here are a few helpful travel tips to follow.
Tip #1: Take Advantage of Expedited Airport Security
If you have to fly for a business trip or a short-term assignment, you don’t want to spend too much time at the airport. In the U.S., military travel can be a little less painful with the help of TSA Pre Check for Active Duty Military. The program offers those in the military expedited airport security screening benefits. The program is in place at more than 120 TSA Pre Check airports. Active duty service members can easily travel through the airport more quickly and easily by not having to wait in the long security lines, remove their shoes or even take out their liquids. The program also includes any accompanying family members under the age of 12.
Tip #2: Always Ask For a Discount At Hotels
One of the main advantages for traveling military or government employees is the discounts, specifically those offered on hotels. Many military and government workers neglect to book properties that offer discounts on room rates. Extended Stay America is one of those hotels, offering deals to military and government employees, making government travel easier to afford. In most cases, you usually can select the discounted rate and show your government or military identification at check-in. By taking advantage of government travel rates at hotels, the wallet is less constricted so that you can still get out and appreciate your destination, despite being there for work.
Tip #3: Do Something Local
Working and traveling doesn’t always leave much wiggle room to fit in sightseeing while on your way or at your destination. Military and government employees should try to at least do something local. A business trip doesn’t necessarily need to be only about business. In addition to hotels, many attractions like museums also offer discounts or free admission to the military. Playing the part of tourist becomes a little bit more affordable in that case. Also, it can be beneficial to look for hotels near where you have to work. By being closer to the task at hand, you stand to have more time to escape the job and actually see something at your destination.
Traveling for business has its positives and negatives. While you might get shuttled off to a far-flung destination of your dreams, being able to enjoy it isn’t always on the table. However, by practicing these main military and government employee travel tips, you stand a better chance of dodging long lines at the airport, scooping up amazing hotel deals and seeing something local at your destination. After all, all work and no play tend to make for a dull business trip.
Flying with Children? Bring These 5 Items in Your Carry-on
It is not always the most desirable of scenarios, flying with children that is. Add the holiday rush and cranky travelers and it’s a recipe for a stress-induced trip. Airports and planes can be unchartered and intimidating territory not just for a youngster, but also for the parents traveling with their little ones. In particular, parents struggle with packing the right items for every age and stage from doorstep to doorstep to ensure there isn’t a meltdown in the middle of the flight. Every parent’s worst nightmare is being “that person” on the plane - the one with the screaming child. Nothing’s worse than a five-hour flight with neighboring passengers giving you the constant stink eye. In order to truly fly through the airport with your kiddos, bring these five items in your carry-on bag.
1. Extra Diapers
If your little one is still in diapers, you might think a 2-hour flight requires the same amount of diapers as two hours just sitting at home. Sometimes the air pressure on planes can do a number on small stomachs. Your carry-on bag should have double the amount of diapers you think you’ll need for your time in the airport, the flight and when you touch down.
2. A Change of Clothes for Everyone
The whole family should have a change of clothes in their carry-on luggage. You never know if your bags will be lost for days or if a spill will occur mid-flight. It is a good idea to have a spare change of clothes for all parties. If your child is old enough to handle their own backpack or carry-on, you can slip a change of clothes in their bag to save on space in your own.
If you have ever been on a plane with small children, you know how the air pressure can really hurt those little ears during takeoff and landing. While not always a cure, many recommend using gum to help with the air pressure. Before takeoff and landing, parents should pass out gum to kids if they’re old enough to chew it. Include pacifiers if the child uses one and is too young for gum.
Whether it’s your child’s favorite book, or a game they have been longing to play, you will want some form of entertainment in your carry-on bag for the family trip. Traveling can be a long process, especially if flights are delayed, which tends to happen more often during the cold weather months. You will keep everyone happy if the little ones are entertained and don’t notice how long everything may be taking. Games, books and coloring supplies will all help pass the time at the airport and in flight.
With airlines handing out next to nothing in the way of snacks and meals unless you pay up, parents should have an ample supply of snacks with them at the airport. It never fails when flying with children, they always seem to be “starving” at the most inopportune time, like when you are in line to board. Snacks in individual Ziploc bags make it easy to grab and pass out snacks.
After you have survived the plane ride and airport madness with your little ones, you can make some time for relaxing in your Extended Stay America suite. Not only do suites feature a home-like layout with separate eating, living and sleeping spaces, but the whole family can appreciate amenities like premium TV channels, pools and hot tubs.
5 Tips for Taking Better Travel Photos
We live in a digital age, where virtually an unlimited numbers of photos can be snapped without a single thought or care of running out of film. It’s easy to literally point and shoot without really thinking about the shots you’re getting. Knowing that you can go home, download and delete unworthy snapshots can alleviate a lot of the stress and pressure to “get that perfect shot,” but with a few pro tips, you can increase your chances of actually getting a shot you want to keep. Travel photography can be fun and rewarding, given a good digital camera and just a little forethought.
TRAVEL PIC TIP #1: THE NOUN ADVANTAGE
That old rule for determining what makes a noun can be a key element in snapping that frame-worthy shot. Combining all three subjects, a person or people, a place or landmark and a thing such as the weather or a boat floating by can create a perfect shot.
TRAVEL PIC TIP #2: DON’T LINE THEM UP
Leave the “more bars in more places” line up strategy to the cell phone commercials. More often than not, it’s the unplanned shots that turn out the best. Random, candid snaps of kids, friends or family members will make a much better picture. There’s something to be said for the unscripted images to recall memories.
TRAVEL PIC TIP #3: NATURAL LIGHT IS YOUR FRIEND
During the day, try to turn off the flash for a more natural look. When indoors, try shooting by a window where you can take advantage of using natural light which will create a better image than the often over-exposure of a flash. If you’re in a darker or nighttime environment and think you need to use a flash, check out this quick video for some great tips.
TRAVEL PIC TIP #4: GET THE CLOSE UP
Try to zoom in and really focus on your target. Panoramics are great for landscape shots, but when trying to capture a specific image, get close, focus and really feature that great shot. Don’t let a ton of background noise distract your viewer.
TRAVEL PIC TIP #5: SHOOT THE LOCALS
Capture the vibe of your subject and surroundings. Let the locals and their culture resonate through your image. Clothing, food and how people travel and move through their homeland are all great subjects to shoot.
Perhaps the biggest trick to capturing great images when traveling is simple: Don’t over think it. Trust your instinct, don’t try to get it all in one frame. Really think about the message you’re trying to convey through your shot. Taking a second or two to evaluate your subject before clicking can go a long way. Think outside the box to get a great photo that will evoke emotion. And when you’re done sightseeing for the day, head back to your comfy Extended Stay America room, download your shots from the day and scroll through the amazing pictures you snapped.
5 Tips to Getting a Good Night's Rest on the Road
For a traveler who has been on the road, there is nothing quite like sleeping in your own bed when you come home. The environment is familiar. The comfort and setting are all catered to your sleeping needs. However, when you are on the road, it can be quite difficult to get quality sleep. We are sharing several tips to help you sleep like you do at home, even when you are far from it.
#1. Request a Quiet Room at Your Hotel
Your lack of sleep on the road could be in the cards long before you check in to your hotel. Some rooms are quieter than others. If you are a sensitive sleeper, you can always request a room at your hotel away from common noisemakers such as ice machines and elevators. You can even look out for soundproofing as an amenity when you book a hotel. In addition, requesting to be on a higher floor can help keep the noise from the lobby away. When you are booking your Extended Stay America hotel room, simply ask to be away from these noisy hotel neighbors and you are sure to get a better night’s sleep when you check in.
#2. Come Prepared
Sometimes you just can’t dodge noise and light at your hotel. But, you can still avoid them by coming prepared for your stay. Savvy travelers always pack earplugs, a sleep mask or any other tools, such as a travel sound machine, they might need to fall asleep. You can’t always avoid noise and light when you travel, but if you come prepared, they shouldn’t ever deter your sleep.
#3. Be Careful What You Eat and Drink
Many people don’t keep in mind that one of the best tips for better sleep is that you have to consider what you are eating on the road. A big part of travel often involves eating and drinking outside your normal diet. Constant restaurant meals and over indulgence of alcohol can keep you up at night. You should try to stick to what you normally eat and drink back home, even while traveling. It is also essential to keep hydrated when going across several time zones.
#4. Limit Your Screen Time
Regardless of whether you’re traveling for business or taking a vacation, these days the office always seems to follow us. Resist the temptation to doze off by the light of your smart phone, though. Rather than climbing into bed and pulling out your cell phone or tablet, try to limit your screen time an hour or so before bedtime. The light of the screen has the ability to keep you from falling asleep when you are done checking work emails. Even if you have to keep your phone on at night, switch the Wi-Fi off so those email dings don’t keep you from getting sleep.
#5. Make Yourself at Home
Sleeping tips often boil down to trying to create an atmosphere of home while on the road. You can achieve the feeling of home by making your hotel room a little more familiar. You can bring a travel pillow or a photograph that makes you feel more at ease. Many sleep experts also recommend getting up and going to another room if you can’t sleep. By making your hotel feel more like home, it can lessen the discomfort that sometimes comes with sleeping in a new environment.
Sleeping in new beds, foreign environments and noisy spaces is rarely easy for travelers. However, getting a good night’s rest is possible on the road. With a little planning, packing and preparing, you can saw logs like you do at home, right in the comforts of your hotel.
Tips for Better Sleep
5 Must-Have Items for Your International Business Trip
Traveling internationally for business is always depicted as quite glamorous in television and film. Actors and actresses always seem to look put-together and ready to take on that meeting in a different language. However, if you have traveled internationally for business, you know that it is not always as smooth sailing as it appears to be on the big screen, namely due to packing mishaps. If you have to take an international business trip, be sure you remember to throw these five items in your carry-on luggage.
1. A Power Strip
If you are like most business travelers, the first order of business when you check into a hotel is to immediately begin the search for the nearest outlets. In different countries, the outlets can be few and far between in your hotel room. Some come only with one plug, and it may already be in use for the room lights. Also, as you travel through airport after airport, you might face a similar problem of struggling to find a free outlet. A power strip should be in your carry-on or computer bag for both domestic and international business trips. When you don’t have a lot of time to charge up your devices, you’ll appreciate the convenience of having multiple outlets at your disposal.
2. Universal Adapter/Plug Converters
A U.S. power strip without a converter won’t be of much use to you in France. Even if you don’t pack a power strip, you need to have the right adapters for the country you are traveling to. Having the right converters will eliminate any frantic searches for a converter for your U.S. plug in the middle of Croatia.
3. Luggage Lock
Corporate travel often means you are traveling with all of your prized and pricy devices. Nothing could be worse than having them stolen, especially in an international setting where you might not be as aware as you are when traveling in familiar places. By packing a luggage lock, you can make certain that the items in your bag won’t be stolen in a quick grab and dash. A luggage lock also comes in handy when you have to go out to a business dinner and worry about someone back at the hotel getting into your room.
4. A Credit Card with No International Transaction Fees
Aside from making that phone call to your credit card company to notify them that you will be traveling internationally, you might also want to be sure you bring a credit card that doesn’t charge international transaction fees. If you are wining and dining clients constantly on your trip, those fees can quickly add up. Even if your company is covering the fee as part of corporate travel management, you should still have a card with you with such a feature in case you sneak off for your own independent activities.
5. A Travel Steamer
Looking your best for a business meeting is crucial. This can be incredibly difficult with a bunch of clothing that has spent several days, if not weeks, crumpled in a suitcase. It can also be even more challenging to locate an iron abroad. To look put-together, pack a travel steamer to iron out any wrinkles before your business activities.
When you need a domestic business-friendly hotel wherever you are headed to wheel and deal, Extended Stay America ticks all of the boxes. Suites provide access to free and fast Wi-Fi and comfortable spaces to both work and unwind.
Spring Forward with These Daylight Savings Tips
Every spring, travelers on the road wake up in a panic at least one day of the year. They have missed a meeting, appointment or their flight because they forgot about Daylight Savings Time. You can blame Benjamin Franklin for coming up with the concept of Daylight Savings Time. Dealing with that lost hour of sleep isn’t easy, especially if you aren’t at home. This year, Daylight Saving Time begins on Sunday March 8th at 2AM. At this time, clocks spring forward, giving that extra hour of daylight in the evening, just as old Ben intended. Now that you know the date and time of this year’s “spring forward,” here are a few tips for remembering and dealing with Daylight Savings when you are traveling.
Spring Forward Your Clock a Few Days Before
Daylight Savings Time occurs at 2AM on Sunday when most of us are fast asleep. It can be a rude awakening when you are particularly groggy the next morning because you have received one hour less of sleep. Most of us either forget to go to bed an hour earlier, or we simply stay up far too late to feel like a human being the next morning. This year, try to ease into Daylight Savings by setting your clock forward a few days in advance. The change will come as less of a shock to your mind and body if you are already going to bed, waking up and eating on a new schedule. On the Friday or Saturday before Daylight Savings Time, try to adjust your clock an hour forward to gradually work up to the official day of Daylight Savings.
Schedule a Wake Up Call For Sunday Morning
If every year you find yourself frequently wondering when is Daylight Savings? you are most likely the person who oversleeps through your flight or meeting the next morning. And if you’re traveling, you don’t always have your normal sleep routine and trusted alarm clock. As a result, you can miss engagements and activities. In order to not miss a beat, you can have your Extended Stay America front desk schedule a wake up call for you. With a wake up call, you can rest easy, literally, knowing that a phone will ring to wake you when you need to be up.
Sure, you can have your hotel wake you up and you can even begin springing forward several days in advance. However, many travelers don’t know what to do with that extra hour of daylight when they do have it. Make the most of those long daylight hours by getting your sweat on. Getting some exercise not only helps you shed the pounds, but it’s proven that working out also results in a better night’s sleep, even with the time change. Exercising should be easy to do on the road if you book a hotel that has a gym or a swimming pool. Travelers should be cautious about when they exercise. While that morning jog might help wake you up, jogging just before bedtime could also keep you awake at night.
Travelers don’t have to be a cranky, tired mess if they are on the road during the time change. With some planning, assistance from your hotel and a little good old-fashioned exercise, you can spring forward with a certain spring in your step rather than puffy eyes and yawns.
The Best Offices Every Business Leader Should Tour
Too often, the word offices conjures up images of drab, boring spaces with bad lighting, beige walls and a sea of monotonous cubicles. These spaces do little to inspire and spark creativity. But if you’re a business leader or you run your own company, your office space should be a direct reflection of your brand image - it should be a space that is unique and cultivates a well-rounded, motivated employee. If you’re seeking inspiration to jazz up your office spaces, here are a few high-powered companies that have created offices worthy of being emulated.
Epic Systems Corporation
Located in Verona, Wisconsin, Epic Systems Corporation is a tech company that produces electronic medical records. By definition, the business might sound humdrum and boring, but Epic has lived up to its name in terms of its office space. You can take a guided tour of its facilities which include, among many other themes, highlights like an Indiana Jones inspired tunnel, a hallway masked to look like the New York City subway and even a dry cleaning shop made to look like the New York Stock Exchange. In addition, Epic boasts various style conference rooms including a tree house space and futuristic designed rooms. The company’s boardroom even resembles a log cabin. And after you’ve toured this fabulous work environment, you can stay just outside of Madison, where you can rest up at Extended Stay America while in town. Chalk full of amenities, suites make anyone feel like a CEO of a high-powered company for a day.
If you can score a tour of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, you can experience a mini-community of creativity. Not only does Facebook boast loads of unusual wall art throughout its workspaces, but the company also appropriately outfits its employees. Employees can dine at the restaurants on site for free, take advantage of a video arcade or even go get their car fixed if they need a tune up.
Google Headquarters might not open up for tours, but if you know an employee, you are in for a treat. The site often referred to as Googleplex in Mountain View, California loads up the space with plenty of amenities for its employees. Volleyball courts, free campus bikes, gardens, tennis courts, soccer fields, a Frisbee golf course, nap pods, a bowling alley, slides and massage rooms put Google at the top of the list for being one of the best offices to work at across the country. Google Headquarters also has campus restaurants where employees can feast on breakfast, lunch and dinner without forking over a dime.
Microsoft has made its own small town in Redmond, Washington. Employees have the chance to use an onsite shopping mall, food courts, soccer fields and plenty of restaurants and eateries including a mini Pike Place, making it one of the best companies to be employed by in terms of work amenities. If you can’t score a tour of the offices, you can take a tour of the Microsoft Visitor Center. The visitor center boasts exhibits detailing the vision, products, culture and history of Microsoft. You can expect to see the latest Microsoft Research innovations along with the first personal computer. The Microsoft Visitor Center sits right on the Microsoft Campus.
These companies have hit the nail on the head, so to speak, when it comes to innovation and encouraging motivated, productive employees. So whether you’re a business owner or looking for a place to get your creative juices flowing, these companies are well worth taking a look at for inspiration.