Seniors on the Go: The senior travel outlook for 2014

Destinations: A travel e-book

Destinations is a helpful, insightful collection of columns from Chicago Tribune travel writer Josh Noel, covering a wide range of expertly curated getaways. Click here for the e-book, free to Digital Plus members and only $4.99 for non-members.

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14 Places You Should Plan To Visit In 2014

Mombo Camp Safari breakfast

Mombo Camp

It’s time to start thinking about planing your dream trip next year. So where should you go?

We looked at major developments, cultural trends, and global festivals to find the hottest places to travel around the world in 2014.

From Croatia, the E.U.’s newest member; to Tokyo, the site of the 2020 Olympic Games, here are the best places to travel next year.

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Kombi’s last rites: Farewell to a travel icon

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The VW Kombi ceases production today in the last country still making the vehicle -- Brazil. Here's a nostalgic trip down Kombi lane to discover how this rather ramshackle van achieved its iconic status.The VW Kombi ceases production today in the last country still making the vehicle — Brazil. Here’s a nostalgic trip down Kombi lane to discover how this rather ramshackle van achieved its iconic status.

Kombis became popular with travelers in the 1960s, including iReporter Gary Garfield, shown here in his home of 10 months during a world tour.Kombis became popular with travelers in the 1960s, including iReporter Gary Garfield, shown here in his home of 10 months during a world tour.

Volkswagen Brazil cites costly new safety standards as the reason it's ceasing production of the Kombi.Volkswagen Brazil cites costly new safety standards as the reason it’s ceasing production of the Kombi.

The Kombi became synonymous in the 1960s and 1970s with hippies and surfers, its utilitarian features -- capable of carrying surf boards, musical equipment and other loads inside or on its roof -- combining with its cheap price and easy maintenance.The Kombi became synonymous in the 1960s and 1970s with hippies and surfers, its utilitarian features — capable of carrying surf boards, musical equipment and other loads inside or on its roof — combining with its cheap price and easy maintenance.

The end of production this year won't mean the end of Kombi journeys. Online communities provide a space to share stories and trade ideas that help keep our vans going, says enthusiast Vince Moellering.The end of production this year won’t mean the end of Kombi journeys. Online communities provide a space to share stories and trade “ideas that help keep our vans going,” says enthusiast Vince Moellering.

Kombis weren't immune to breaking down, but they weren't hard to fix, either.Kombis weren’t immune to breaking down, but they weren’t hard to fix, either.

Supreme functionality has endeared the Kombi to generations of outdoor lovers and camping fans.Supreme functionality has endeared the Kombi to generations of outdoor lovers and camping fans.

Kombis became the vehicle/hangout of choice for surfers and hippies in the 1960s. The Kombi exemplifies the free spirit of peace activists, lovers, world travelers and campers, says Garfield.Kombis became the vehicle/hangout of choice for surfers and hippies in the 1960s. “The Kombi exemplifies the free spirit of peace activists, lovers, world travelers and campers,” says Garfield.

Split windscreens were a feature of earlier models. Newer Kombis have a single front window, instead, as well as a larger engine and greater weight.Split windscreens were a feature of earlier models. Newer Kombis have a single front window, instead, as well as a larger engine and greater weight.

iReporter Vince Moellering uses his Kombi for camping, hauling and supplying parts.iReporter Vince Moellering uses his Kombi for camping, hauling and supplying parts.

Few vehicles are as easy to identify on the road.Few vehicles are as easy to identify on the road.

But Kombis won't die, as long as enthusiastic owners keep the remaining cars and their spirit alive, says Moellering.But Kombis won’t die, “as long as enthusiastic owners keep the remaining cars and their spirit alive,” says Moellering.













(CNN) — It’s been in continuous production since the 1950s but Volkswagen Brazil — the last country where the vehicles were still being made — ceases production of the classic Kombi van today, the last day of 2013.

Rolling off the production lines in Hanover, Germany, until 1979 but continuing in Brazil, the VW Transporter, aka the camper van, is the longest-produced model in automotive history, according to Vokswagen.

Around 3.5 million of the affordable, utilitarian vehicles, with their classic cloth window curtains, have been made.

Motley crew of lovable vans.

Attaching themselves to the mini-homes on wheels were equally numerous roof racks, surfboards and travel memories.

On a backpacking trip to Europe back in 1973, a 20-year-old Californian named Gary Garfield shelled out US$700 to set himself up for the months of travel ahead.

He spent a chunk of that money on a 1967 Volkswagen minibus, wanting to combine transportation and accommodation in one slightly rickety but reliable vehicle.

He ripped out the seats, put in a platform bed and installed shelves and cupboards.

Garfield spent the next 10 months in this mobile home with his wife battling desert sands in Algeria, food poisoning in Tunisia and enduring six-week stints with no contact with friends or family.

Similar stories are told by countless other travelers.

VW is calling it quits because the Kombi won’t meet new safety standards set to come into force next year in Brazil.

After 63 years of production, the last Kombi will roll out of its Brazilian factory at the end of 2013.

Upgrading the van with dual front airbags and anti-lock brakes was ruled too costly.

Come next year, old Kombis sluggishly powering their way along highways and up mountain passes, being overtaken by virtually all other traffic, will be all that remain — ageing steel bodies from a time when people were less concerned about getting somewhere fast.

It’s worth pausing to reflect on what made the Kombi a travel icon.

Hippies and surfers

The Kombi became synonymous in the 1960s and 1970s with hippies and surfers, its utilitarian features — capable of carrying surf boards, musical equipment and various loads inside or on its roof — combining well with its cheap price (secondhand Kombis could be picked up for a couple hundred bucks) and easy maintenance.

Garfield’s van required the repair of one flat tire and a new battery in 10 months of travel.

Many people named their Kombis, like iReporter Jason Kauffman, 40, who affectionately called his Kombi “Double D.”

“I have no desire to own anything except an old VW,” Kauffman insists.

Other iReporters named their vans “Bus Gus,” “Homer,” “Claire” and “Charlotte.”

Vince Moellering, 32, explains, “Cars like the VW van are more than just cars, they’re cultural icons.”

Those who traveled in one in their youth keep the memories with them. Others own their van (or vans) for decades before passing them to offspring.

Even people without “VW lineage,” as iReporter Bryan Scott calls it, can find themselves bitten by the urge to up and travel in a Kombi.

Second life online

Online communities provide space to share stories and trade “ideas that help keep our vans going,” says Moellering.

Australia’s Kombi Club is an online forum co-founded and sponsored by The Bus Stop, a parts distributor.

“Roy” from The Bus Stop says the business supplies Kombi enthusiasts in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa and Canada and other countries.

“Once you’ve driven a Kombi, you’re hooked for life,” he says.

The Kombi will be missed by outdoor lovers and camping fans.

But why?

After all, these VW vans, at least in their original form, are underpowered, slow, have dodgy suspension and don’t offer much comfort in either heat or cold.

“The Kombi exemplifies the free spirit of peace activists, lovers, world travelers, campers and families moving about together across this planet,” says Garfield.

“Few vehicles scream: ‘Let’s go exploring!’ the way a VW van does,” says Moellering.

MORE: The future of travel: From flying cars to shared vehicles

Modern modification

Simplicity has helped the Kombi remain relevant in a new century. It’s undergone plenty of modifications, but its outward appearance remains instantly recognizable.

The model produced in Brazil was based on the second phase of the Type 2 (VW’s Type 1 was the Beetle), which was produced in Germany from 1967–1979.

It differed from the first phase with a larger engine, greater weight and a bay window, rather than the previous model’s split-windscreen.

Numerous iterations have brought speed and body width increases, automatic transmission and an engine switch from air- to water-cooled.

It’s not a complicated machine — handy when something goes wrong.

Kombi owner Bryan Scott says part of the VW’s appeal to him was, “We’d always heard [they] could be fixed anywhere and by anyone.”

The Kombi does it all: camping, hauling and supplying parts.

Jason Kauffman says the Kombi’s enduring appeal comes down to versatility: “You can travel in it, sleep in it, it gets decent fuel mileage and it’s very compact compared to large motor homes.”

Vince Moellering applauds the Kombi as a jack of all trades, saying he’s used his “as a camper, a mountain bike hauler, a moving van and a construction supply truck.”

German effectiveness

The versatility of a Kombi goes right back to its name, which comes from the German “Kombinationskraftwagen,” a combination of passenger and cargo vehicle.

Its ability to carry both passengers and piles of stuff has made the Kombi more than a mode of transport.

“The bus is both our home and a member of our family,” says Bryan Scott. “We talk to it as we decide a path for each day, coax it slowly over the next hill and thank it as we arrive at each new destination.”

The vehicle is also a great conversation starter. “VWs are [like] a language understood throughout the world,” says Jason Kauffman.

“People in each country we visit love the bus — they stop to tell us their stories and ask to hear ours,” says Scott.

MORE: World’s 10 ultimate drives

Not the end of the road

There's more road ahead for the Kombi.

Devotion to the Kombi helps loyalists remain upbeat about the end of production.

“As long as enthusiastic owners keep the remaining cars and their spirit alive, the end of active production won’t mean the end of the vehicle,” says Moellering.

When Gary Garfield completed his 1973 tour in the bus that had served him so reliably, he sold it for a $100 profit.

Then he “watched it drive away to offer its new owner’s fond memories.”

Even though the factory gates have shut, well-preserved Kombis will keep rumbling along the road and in the recollections of 63 years of travelers.

Originally published March 2013; updated September 25 and December 30, 2013.

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Travel + Leisure: St. Paul Hotel Among World’s Best

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – Minnesota is rich with a large number of classy and elegant hotels, but there is one in the capitol city that consistently outshines all others.

In the January edition of Travel and Leisure magazine, readers named the St. Paul Hotel as one of the world’s 500 best hotels. In fact, it is the only hotel in Minnesota to make the prestigious list.

From the moment guests arrive in the hotel’s carpeted, wood-paneled and crystal elegance, they’re struck with a balance of modern convenience and old world charm.

The St. Paul Hotel has been welcoming guests for more than a century, says general manager, David Miller.

“The hotel was built in 1910,” Miller said as he opened the door to one of the spacious suites.

Miller says that being named to Travel and Leisure’s list of the world’s best is a reflection of the hotel’s warm hospitality and rich decor.

According to Miller, “we have 254 rooms total and about 30 of them are upgraded rooms of some types. We have three of the named suites.”

And those suites are decorated with beautifully crafted wooden furniture – complete with four posted bed, formal dining table and a priceless view of nearby Rice Park.

Because the St. Paul Hotel will host more than 100 weddings each year, there’s even a specially decorated dressing suite reserved just for the bride and her bridesmaids.

“A lot of the suites are individualized which makes for a very unique story,” Miller said.

And whether curled up next to a fireplace or dining in the acclaimed St. Paul Grill, guests consistently give the hotel top marks. It’s an honor earned thanks to the hotel’s charming setting and committed staff.

“They are very proud, hospitality is in their hearts. They do a fantastic job and that’s why people keep coming back,” Miller said.

Among the hotel’s artifacts is a guest list from the first year in 1910. Presidents Taft, Roosevelt and Garfield were all present at a meeting that gave rise to the national park system.

The cost of their rooms back then: between $2 and $4.

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Portland Leads Nation in Discriminatory Travel Taxes

Portland has long attracted out-of-state shoppers with its famous ‘no sales tax’.  An item priced at $14.99 really is just $14.99.  But a recent report from the Global Business Travel Association revealed a different reality, placing Portland at the top of the list of US cities with high travel taxes

Out of the nation’s top 50 destinations Portland ranks most expensive when it comes to car rentals, hotel rooms and restaurant bills, according to Global Business Travel Association.  A visitor is estimated to pay around $22.86 a day in taxes alone with Boston following second at $19.34.

According to the report, an upward spike in travel related taxes is a creative way for cities strapped for cash to gain an influx in revenue, using tourists as their source. 

The ten cities with the lowest travel-related taxes are located in California (our sunny neighbors to the south) and Florida (the sunshine state). 

Head to Burbank, CA, for the cheapest tax rates at just $1.58 a day.

To read the full report, click here

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Flight Attendants, Bellhops, And Waiters Reveal Their True Feelings About …

waiters in the imperial hotel in new delhi india


See Also

Working at a hip New York restaurant has its hazards.

“Some people are so impatient,” laments a waiter. “One lady poked me in the hand with a fork while I was taking another order because she thought her food was taking too long.”

That restaurant waiter is part of a battalion of professionals tasked with making travelers’ experiences go smoothly, whether it’s a romantic getaway, business trip, or family vacation.

Consider the honeymoon planner who books your stay in Bora-Bora; the porter who helps you haul your luggage out of the airport taxi; or the national park guide who fields your questions.

While you might not think twice about the valet to whom you’ve entrusted your $75,000 car or the front desk manager you chatted with when you checked in, these people have seen it all — and probably thought twice about you.

We’ve interviewed travel industry professionals to get them to fess up and share their tips, pet peeves and craziest experiences. They’re the eyes and ears of international travel, and their stories will make your jaw drop, or at least inspire more courtesy and more generous tips.

Confessions of a front desk manager

I like hearing people’s stories, but please, keep it brief. We have a button on the phone that will make it ring to rescue us from a boring conversation.

Not everyone tips, but some tip a lot, so it’s a wash. People have tipped me in marijuana.

And yes, we can hear you when you’re having sex, sometimes even from the lobby. And I can always tell how some people are going to sound.

Confessions of a flight attendant 

A 20-year airline-industry veteran, who asked to remain anonymous, gives us the lowdown on working in the sky.

People treat the plane like a bathroom. I’ve seen passengers changing their babies’ diapers on the tray table, clipping toenails, and picking their noses.

Instead of the stereotype that we’ve all slept around, now it’s that we’re all old, fat, and mean. But we’re not.

How to get under my skin: push the call button to find out when we’ll land or to ask for beverages before we take off. Basically, you never want to push the call button. Period.

Confessions of a taxi driver

John McDonagh has been a cabbie in New York for more than 30 years (and yes, the job is as crazy as you’d think).

I can almost always tell the people that are gonna get sick in my car. Two dudes helping a friend stand? Yeah, I’m not pulling over.

A guy was making out with two girls at once and one got so jealous she jumped out of the moving car. I still got them to Jackson Heights all right.

The worst tippers are from Europe. It’s nothing to do with cheapness; it’s their custom.

New Yorkers are so spoiled. They’ll wait for a table or Broadway tickets. But a taxi? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Confessions of an Aspen bellman

A veteran porter sheds light on working at a ritzy ski-town resort.

A lot of people assume that we’re good for carrying luggage, and that’s it. But we know as much or more about where to eat and what to do as the front desk or concierge.

Some guests think we’re their personal assistants. They want us to get them groceries, swap their pillows, even drive them to the liquor store and wait for half an hour.

We see the craziest outfits. Last year a middle-aged couple was dressed almost identically in fur boots and fur vests, with head-to-toe fake tans.

Older ladies love to flirt with the bellmen. Usually they’re joking, but hookups do happen. The ratio in Aspen is about five guys to every girl — easy pickings for the cougars.

Confessions of a waiter

What’s it really like to work at a hip NYC restaurant? A server dishes the dirt.

Some people are so impatient: one lady poked me in the hand with a fork while I was taking another order because she thought her food was taking too long.

Please don’t ask for a more desirable table. I get that you weren’t allowed to sit at the cool table in high school, but it’s only a table. Just sit down.

I’ve never seen a server spit in someone’s food, no matter how much the customer deserves it. It’s just not worth it.

Keep reading at Travel + Leisure

More from Travel + Leisure: 

Seasoned Tourists Share Their Best Travel Tips

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Tips on mitigating travel mishaps

6) Be polite. I cannot stress this enough. Whether you are beyond stressed or missing an important connection, being rude to customer service people or gate agents is the single biggest no-no.

They don’t care about you and your issues and will help you as minimally as possible, but if you are nice and polite you have a better chance.  

However, if you say something like “Do you know who I am” or “I’ll never fly this airline again” you will get nowhere-fast!

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Cheap Travel Tips For International Students

This article comes to us courtesy of U.S. News World Report, where it was originally published.

Many international students have already seen parts of the world and the insides of airports in locations that many American college students can only dream about. So, semester breaks provide the perfect chance for international students to do some local exploration.

During my first Christmas break as a student abroad, I had almost three weeks of free days to fill up. Some of that time was spent enjoying the freedom of a schedule without homework. But after the novelty of sleeping in wore off, I was itching to see something new.

Dreaming big with my husband, who was also a student, we decided to spend the New Year’s holiday at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.

[Get advice on how to fight holiday homesickness.]

By following a few travel tips, I was able to plan an adventure for less than the price of an academic credit.

1. Travel on less desirable days: Everyone generally gets the same breaks, but putting plans on pause until after Christmas or a later weekday will help to save money. We used the online auction site eBay to gauge the price of tickets.

On Dec. 22, we found a family’s vacation up for bid that included two admissions passes for five days. If we could pull the holiday together on short notice, their scheduling conflict would let us enjoy Disney for less than half the retail price.

2. Check out the online options for booking your travel: We didn’t buy the tickets right away because sometimes the expense of travel and board is more than the destination and we wanted to do some research and budgeting to see if it would work.

A bus fare found on took us from Detroit to Pittsburgh, Pa., for less than the cost of one tank of gas. We caught another bus from there and, with a little patience and time to think, we found a route to Florida that rang in under $100 per person.

[Learn the best ways for students to plan a trip home.]

The success of getting there and the excitement at the end of the line motivated us to find a bed for the flawless getaway. was the perfect fit. The website’s literal legitimization of couch-surfing puts you in contact with people who rent out spare bedrooms or apartments for any period of time you request.

Each place is rated like a hotel by the previous occupants and creates a community of travel enthusiasts that international students can really benefit from. We found a room with a fellow who offered to pick us up from the bus drop-off.

[Check out ways to save money as an international student.]

3. Plan your travel around a local event: Each of the tricks to traveling cheap work on the smaller scale, too. In fact, staying within state lines is sometimes the best way to get a unique taste of the local culture. Our adventures in Michigan even took us to places that locals sometimes miss out on.

In addition to the student discounts offered by many transportation companies and destinations, making your plans around a larger promoted event will help you secure more discounts and more concrete experiences as you travel. This was the case this past October when we participated in the Great Turtle Run on Mackinaw Island, Mich.

Participating in a fundraiser got us discounts on the ferry and a recommended list of hostels and campgrounds that supported the event by lowering prices for participants. We also got to enjoy the benefits of other local event sponsors while exploring the natural beauty of the state park.

To get the most out of your study experience, I recommend using your student status to visit locations local to your school. You’re here and might as well see some of what your new community looks like, so get out there and see a bit of your brand new world.

Don’t let your farewell from home be your last bon voyage as an international student. Traveling on the cheap comes easy for students if you know where to look for discounts and deals.

Katelyn Ruiz, from Canada, is pursuing an interdisciplinary master’s degree in communication and English from Andrews University.

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Learn About The Local Laws

    Once you enter a country, you are subjected to its laws. Therefore, for your own safety, it’s important to learn them before visiting. For instance, in Singapore you can be arrested for spitting in public.

  • Be Mindful Of The Culture

    Even if the new culture’s way of life is unnatural to you, you want to be respectful of it. Be aware of traditions and customs so you can pack appropriate clothes or learn basic skills like how to use chopsticks.

  • Learn the native language

    Pick up enough phrases to help you when you get inevitably lost, or to ensure that you don’t get ripped off at the local markets. If you’re staying for awhile, then immerse yourself in the language fully to be able to spark interesting conversations everyday and become more of a member of the community. It’s no fun having to always respond to someone with “I don’t understand”.

  • Take precautions for the worst

    Just to be safe, leave copies of your passport and address/contact information of where you are going with someone at home. Also, make a few extra copies to keep in your suitcase during your trip in case the original gets lost or stolen. Furthermore, become fully acquainted with the whereabouts of the U.S. embassy in the country you are visiting.

  • Know what may be hazardous to you

    If you are visiting a country that serves mainly spicy food and you know that won’t sit well with your stomach, pack appropriate medicines and supplements. If you are visiting a country that is prone to specific bugs or diseases such as malaria, give yourself time to receive the necessary vaccinations and shots.

  • Watch the news

    Be fully up to date with the happenings in the city you are visiting as well as neighboring countries. Don’t be ignorant of potential dangers.

  • Be smart with your belongings

    Always firmly hold your belongings in a way that they can’t be snatched from you and don’t dress extravagantly in expensive jewelry or accessories. Travelling abroad may turn you into a photographer but be cautious of flaunting your digital SLR camera. It’s important not to make yourself seem vulnerable to robbery and theft.

  • Keep in touch just enough

    Though you shouldn’t lose touch with your family and friends at home, don’t let them inhibit your experience. Consider starting a blog or sending a postcard from your travels so your family and friends can be kept up to date on your adventures. Be in contact enough so you don’t lose touch with what’s happening at home but also focus on your adventure.

  • Travel

    If you’re spending a more lengthy time abroad, take advantage of your location to travel. A ticket to Berlin may cost you 200 euros, but do you know how much it costs to get from the U.S. to berlin? About 100x more.

  • Do What Natives Do

    This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Ride the elephant in Thailand, drink the snake blood in Vietnam, go sand duning in Dubai and brave through the Singaporean fish pedicure. And have fun!

Article source:

Hot Destinations and Top US Travel Trends for 2014

As we wrap up another eventful year in travel, takes a sneak a peek at what’s ahead for 2014. Of course, since past is prologue, much of what’s to come was shaped by events in 2013.

The rise of the super airline

For travelers in the U.S., one of the biggest stories of the past year is the rise of the super airline. With the merger of American Airlines and US Airways, United Airlines’ rule as the largest airline ended less than a year into its new life. Last March, Continental Airlines was fully integrated into United — the fruit of two years’ worth of work.

It will take American and US Airways time to combine their resources too, but consumers can expect changes to start early in 2014. Most notable will be when US Airways drops its membership in the Star Alliance to join oneworld. This shift in the international airline partner base will leave heavy mileage accumulators and frequent overseas travelers with some homework and head scratching to do — and maybe some tough decisions to make. It might also encourage folks who have been planning to cash in for a big trip to get moving. The switchover happens on March 31/April 1, 2014.

With United, Delta and the new American all truly super-sized, these large airlines are sure to be very busy competing with one another with a lot of focus on international travel and amenities like lay flat beds in first class (even on domestic flights). For the price-conscious traveler, there may be less to love on those major airlines as nickel and diming for basics — like a few more inches of leg room — becomes even more prevalent.

However, this battle among the power airlines will likely leave room for newer and smaller players competing on base price to emerge, for established “budget” airlines like Southwest and JetBlue to gain even more ground and for regional airlines like Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines to expand the number of markets they serve.

Travel hot spots

In 2013, a number of new travel hot spots began to emerge (or reemerge). Domestic travel is still by far the most popular in the United States, but we did find that people are increasingly including the U.S. territories in their vacation plans. Searches to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, jumped 40 percent while those to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, where up 34 percent. Puerto Rico also saw a 10 percent spike in popularity.

Good budget airline service can also deliver a boost to the popularity of a destination. Two prime examples: Denver, Colo., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. Denver is not only a great city and jumping off point for a mountain getaway but also a strategic low-cost carrier hub. Southwest, Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit all serve Denver International and the competition works in the traveler’s favor. So it’s no surprise that Denver saw a 17 percent increase in travel searches for the year. Likewise, Myrtle Beach’s small but growing airport now offers non-stop flights to 25 different cities — the majority offered by low-cost carriers Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Airlines. That has served as pricing pressure on the flights US Airways, United and Delta offer into Myrtle Beach, which led to a 20 percent increase in travelers looking to visit this southern beach town.

All year we’ve been tracking Los Cabos’ continued appeal as a year-round beach destination with something to offer at pretty much any price point. Despite the troubles that have plagued many parts of Mexico, Los Cabos has been a relative safe haven for tourists. Now, as Mexico tourism begins to bounce back for many parts of the country, Los Cabos is leading the pack. In 2013, we saw a 4 percent increase in travel searches to Los Cabos.

For 2014, we see signs U.S. travelers will continue to chase warm weather and sunshine, look for new bargain destinations and travel for events. Here are some destination trends to watch for:

The year of Brazil — With the Olympics on the horizon and the World Cup coming this summer (June 12 to July 13), Brazil is working hard to be a welcoming host country to sports fans and tourists in general. Already a popular destination, especially during Carnival, Brazil is building out infrastructure for its major upcoming events. Even so, capacity is tight. If you’re planning to visit during the World Cup, act now. Even during the offseason, it’s advisable to book four months in advance.

Paying homage in Europe — 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I so this may be a year for history buffs and family members to visit the battlefields to reconnect with and remember loved ones who sacrificed across Europe in the “war to end all wars.”

Caribbean distinction — Images of crystal blue water and white sandy beaches are the ubiquitous daydream of the Caribbean. However the islands have a mix of cultures, climates and currencies that make it worthwhile to do your homework before you book. Some recent changes, especially in the Dutch Antilles, mean some key island countries have new-found autonomy. As a result, they have — and will — continue to ramp up how they market themselves.

Be prepared to see an increase in other parts of the Caribbean pushing what makes them stand out. Price will be one point but so will ease of access (for example, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with no passport requirements for Americans), travel style (nightlife versus beach views, family versus adventure, chic versus laid back) and activities (diving and bare boating — or cruise ships and shops).

Staying ahead of the crowds — As deal destinations get popular, they lose their unique appeal-of-the-new charm — and their bargain status. The challenge is to spot the next wave of alternatives and beat the growing crowds and climbing prices. This year’s list: instead of Costa Rica, try Nicaragua. Skip Malta and head for Albania. Swap Bulgaria for Estonia. Opt for Laos over Vietnam.

The connected passenger

As we flip the calendar from 2013 to 2014, we are in the heyday of a major transition in terms of the individual flier’s travel experience. Gone are the days of simply reading a book or flipping through a magazine to pass the time on a flight. Whether you are watching satellite TV or playing trivia against your cabin mates on the airplane’s infotainment system or, more likely, glued to your tablet, laptop or phone for videos, games or news from the outside world, you are now a “connected passenger.”

The rules and technology will push this trend even further over the next 12 to 36 months. In-flight WiFi is on the verge of blazing new speeds with vendors eyeing satellite technology to deliver more capacity. Meanwhile, the FAA has relaxed the rules about personal electronic device use below 10,000 feet so you will soon find you can keep reading, playing your games and watching your movies right through landing and takeoff.

The real question now is whether you will be able to chat away on your cell phone during flights. The debate is on as the FCC is currently considering lifting a ban on cell phone use on planes. Some members of Congress are already moving to block in-flight calls.

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10 travel wishes for 2014

There are so many things we'd change about travel if granted that opportunity. What would you change?

(CNN) — Are you preparing to squeeze into your nonrefundable middle seat with no extra legroom and no lunch included for your next flight?

As another busy travel year comes to a close, I wish for a better way to travel in 2014, even if the odds are about as good as winning the lottery. And while you think about your travel wishes for the new year, please turn off your cell phone.

Feds duel over cell phones on planes

Please don’t talk on your cell phone. Whatever government agencies decide about the safety and technical feasibility of cell phone conversations in flight, we hope the airlines will keep cell phone chatter out of the friendly skies. Can you imagine the bosses who will demand conference-call communication during flight? Or your spouse asking you to stop by the grocery store on the way home from the airport? Let it wait until you land.

The return of the empty middle seat. I often book aisle and window seats when I travel with another person, hoping that middle seat will go unclaimed. It rarely happens anymore. When the inevitable third traveler joins us, I move into the middle seat to sit next to my traveling companion (usually my child). There is a silver lining to existing conditions: The middle seat holder is often delighted to get my prime aisle seat.

Aircraft seats made for real people’s rears. Is it too much to ask that we have seats that fit our bodies? It’s not just that our backsides have gotten bigger (and they have). When the U.S. government measured the width of the American backside in the seated position in 1962, officials used the male hip as a seat measuring stick (that women’s hips were a tad wider didn’t seem to matter). But even that male hip measurement doesn’t work because the widest part of your body is your shoulders and arms.

The result is that airline seats were about five inches too narrow for passengers in the 1960s. That’s why your rear is squeezed into the seat and your shoulders get sideswiped by drink carts. Want enough room for your knees? That’s a whole other story.

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Universal cords and chargers. I dream about standard chargers for the electrical gadgets that run my life. I don’t mind bringing my universal adaptor along for my international trips but I’d sure like the same outlet and cord for my phone, computer, tablet and other gadgets. Even Apple, which sells itself on simplicity and modern design, has made things harder by having different cords for different gadgets. I end up carrying all these cords in Ziploc bags in my carry-on luggage and tangling them up in headsets, looking like the disorganized mom that I am.

Worldwide cellular service. I don’t mind paying a bit more when I go abroad, but the American cell phone dance of confusion seems unnecessary when I’m jumping on a four-hour flight to Costa Rica for a week. Skype? Adding international calls to my existing plan for the month? On a recent trip I lived in fear of what charges might show up if I didn’t read the fine print on page 43 of my existing e-contract. I’d like a clear way to make international calls without needing a business consultation or therapy session.

Mellow car rental insurance. It’s the first day of my vacation or work trip, and I love my rental car company encouraging me to think about a possibly terrible traffic accident and whether my existing car insurance and credit cards cover me. Every car I’ve ever rented offers a barrage of insurance policies for which they charge a hefty daily fee in case of disaster, and they play up the threat of disaster.

Even a Consumer Reports expert told me it’s confusing because car rental contracts can vary by state. At his recommendation, I spent about 45 minutes one night calling my car insurance and credit card companies and sorting through my policies to learn that I’m covered enough for me to sleep at night.

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Decent public transportation to the airport. Ever taken public transportation to the airport? Jumping on a train to the airport is a given in many foreign cities and a handful of American ones. In the cities where it works (think San Francisco or London), it’s so civilized to get to the airport without fighting big city traffic. Creating rail links takes money, budgeting and long-range planning by politicians and transportation experts who aren’t likely to be alive when the fruits of their labor are realized. But a girl can dream, right?

End the punishing fees. Before a highly anticipated trip to New York a couple of months ago, I caught that virus that stopped me in my tracks. I stayed home, for my sake and for yours. But my airline didn’t care. They charged me $200 for the privilege of not infecting an entire aircraft, just about the cost of the ticket. And the flight was sold out, so I’m betting they resold my seat for a nice profit. And how about giving me the right to resell the ticket I purchased?

Faster flights. For many people living on the East Coast of the United States, it’s a quicker nonstop flight to Costa Rica or Iceland than to California because of the vast size of the United States. Let’s wish for faster transcontinental travel so we can all enjoy the benefits of traveling within this enormous country. And while we’re at it, I’d love safe and quick travel to the moon. But I’ll start with wishing for a quicker flight to California.

A change in attitude. I understand being grumpy trapped in a flying metal tube surrounded by strangers who steal the armrests, chat your ears off and burp throughout a flight. It’s grumpiness that inspired this story. I hope you feel validated about your opinions about the sorry state of travel. But I’d also like celebrate what is still wondrous and amazing about travel: Isn’t it amazing that humans can fly?

Since I started talking to aviation experts and airline employees over a year ago for CNN’s “24 hours at the world’s busiest airport” project, I’ve been impressed by the human effort that goes into getting my flight off the ground. Crews below and above are loading and unloading, cleaning the plane and stocking up snacks. Pilots are checking the weather and inspecting the aircraft after an overnight crew has ensured the runway is clear of debris and the light bulbs are working. An inspector has tested the arrivals runway for rubber left by landing aircraft, which gets scraped off every couple of weeks.

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I know it’s physics but it’s also magic. Despite the hassles and too-tight seats and packed flights. Here’s to the magic continuing in 2014.

What are your travel wishes for 2014? They can be practical or something out of a science fiction novel. Dream big, and your idea could become part of a future CNN travel story.

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