Microsoft Wants to Bring Travel Bots to Skype Messaging

First came Slack, then came Skype — at least to the messaging app bot game.

Microsoft, which owns Skype, demoed how an updated Cortana would integrate travel expense reporting and hotel booking at its Build conference in San Francisco this week. Cortana now works in the background of the Skype app, understanding both video and SMS conversations within the app, to proactively make suggestions and perform tasks relevant to the conversation and upcoming events a traveler refers to. Cortana is exclusively for Android smartphones and Microsoft’s Windows operating system but Skype isn’t its only domain. As Microsoft explained, Cortana also integrates with a variety of Windows products including Outlook.

Microsoft’s been discreet about how it views itself in the travel ecosystem and no travel brands have launched a Skype bot. It did, however, announce that Cortana can automate expense reporting through Outlook based on incoming emails, though that’s separate from Skype’s bots.

Skype is also more consumer-focused than Slack, which built its business as a messaging platform for companies. Adding bots to Skype’s video messaging creates a new learning curve beside SMS messaging that travel brands haven’t yet grasped.

“This is part of the proactive action capabilities we announced at [Microsoft’s Build conference],” Microsoft told Skift. “Developers can now leverage Cortana’s holistic understanding of the user and their context to proactively surface their app, websites and in the future, bots, to users in just the right the context to drive greater engagement.”

“For consumers, this means that Cortana is now evolving to do things for you when she anticipates that you need help by proactively prompting you with timely suggestions about things, such as expense reports, that she can help with and even connect you with an expert to get it done on your behalf. [Through Microsoft’s Windows Ink] you can even turn your Sticky Note into a reminder, for example. When you type in a flight number, Cortana will recognize it and allow you to track that information [using Cortana] across your devices.”

A Westin Hotels Resorts Skype bot was mentioned during the demo (see video below), but Westin told Skift that Microsoft used the brand as a hypothetical example to demonstrate the bots and that no Westin bot has been implemented and the hotel hasn’t had further discussions with Microsoft about an integration.

With the Westin example, Cortana introduced the Westin bot into a conversation between a traveler and a friend she’s planning to visit in Dublin. Cortana pre-populated the Westin bot with trip dates and destination. After booking a room at The Westin Dublin, the Westin bot left the conversation for chatting to continue between both friends.

The remaining mystery: Microsoft wouldn’t say why it believes travelers want to book travel in this context or offer color about the merging of messaging and travel. Kayak’s Slack bot integration shows that early travel brand adopters brew a lot of uncertainty for travelers. But once kinks get worked out, imagine the convenience of having your favorite hotel or airline integrated into a messaging conversation when chatting with friends and family about upcoming plans to visit them.

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Malloy Bans State-Funded Travel To North Carolina

For the second time in as many years Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is banning state-funded travel to a particular state over a law he believes is discriminatory toward the LGBT community.

Malloy signed an executive order Thursday putting an end to publicly-funded travel to North Carolina, where Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation last week that excludes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Those pushing for the law focused on an ordinance in Charlotte that let transgender people use the restroom of their choice.

“This law is not just wrong, it poses a public safety risk to Connecticut residents traveling through North Carolina,” Malloy said Thursday. “… This laww endangers the welfare not just of North Carolina’s citizens, but of all people visiting that state.”

Last year, Malloy signed a similar executive order banning state-funded travel to Indiana after Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill that prohibited state laws that “substantially burden” the ability of someone to follow their religious beliefs. Critics said the law meant businesses could refuse to serve gays and lesbians citing a religious objections.

Earlier this week Malloy wrote business owners in North Carolina inviting them to move their companies here in the wake of the “discriminatory, anti-LGBT measures.”

Malloy To North Carolina Business Owners: Come To Connecticut

Malloy To North Carolina Business Owners: Come To Connecticut

HARTFORD — Billing Connecticut as “welcoming and inclusive” Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wrote North Carolina business owners this week inviting them to relocate their companies here in the wake of a law critics have said is discriminatory toward the LGBT community.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory,…

HARTFORD — Billing Connecticut as “welcoming and inclusive” Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wrote North Carolina business owners this week inviting them to relocate their companies here in the wake of a law critics have said is discriminatory toward the LGBT community.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory,…


“In our state, your employees and customers would not face such institutional discrimination,” he said. “We are welcoming and inclusive.”

A number of large companies have asked for the North Carolina law to be repealed, including Charlotte-based Bank of America, the largest business in the state.

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Travel giant Tui shrugs off terrorism fears

Families fearful of terrorism are flocking to traditional destinations such as Spain and the Canaries for safe summer holidays, boosting the tour operating giant behind Thomson and First Choice.

Anglo-German package holidays business Tui said that about 47pc of its summer programme has been sold, with muted appetite to travel to Turkey offset by “significant growth” in holidays in countries like Spain, as well as demand for more exotic destinations such as Jamaica.

Turkey has been shaken by a series of terrorist attacks, and earlier this week its tourism ministry reported a 10.3pc drop in foreign visitors last month year-on-year, the sharpest fall in a decade. Tui has responded by shifting capacity to other destinations.

“As expected, demand for Turkish destinations remains subdued,” FTSE 100-listed Tui said.

“Capacity has been remixed away to profitable alternative destinations, with mainland Spain, the Balearics and the Canaries seeing the most significant growth, where we are well placed to benefit through our own hotel content.”

Turkey is an important destination for Hannover-based Tui because it is popular with German tourists. Last year, 14pc of the tour operator’s customers visited the country, but in February Tui revealed that summer bookings to Turkey had plunged by 40pc amid security fears.

Nevertheless, Tui said today that thanks to the switch to other countries, revenues from its 2016 summer programme are up 3pc, boosted by a 2pc increase in bookings and a 1pc rise in average selling prices. The company said it was doing particularly well in the UK, where it reported  “a strong performance”, with bookings up 9pc and revenues rising 8pc.

In its long-haul business, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica continued to prove popular for holidays.

Overall, the company reassured investors it is on course to increase annual adjusted ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation) by 10pc this year. Investors relieved that Tui was weathering the rise in terrorism around the world sent shares in the company up by as much as 5.5pc in early trade. 

Following the shooting of beachgoers in Tunisia last June, a tragedy in which 33 Tui customers died, and the suspected bombing of a Russian airliner leaving Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh in October, Tui is no longer flying Britons to those winter-sun North African destinations due to travel warnings, although it does offer those holidays to Germans.

The company said it was experiencing “higher demand and occupancy rates outside Turkey and North Africa mitigating the impact of lower demand in those destinations” in its winter programme.

The sale of its Hotelbeds online booking business, which analysts believe could fetch €1bn, is ongoing, Tui added.

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Hong Kong to be headquarters of China’s biggest travel business player

China National Travel Service (HK) Group and China International Travel Service Group will set up their headquarters in Hong Kong after their proposed merger that will create the country’s biggest player in the sector.

The plan was unveiled on Thursday when China Travel International Investment Hong Kong, the

Hong Kong-listed subsidiary of China National Travel Service, reported a 22 per cent drop in net profit for last year as a result of dwindling Chinese tourist numbers in Hong Kong.

The management said it believes overnight visitor arrivals in the city are likely to stay depressed in the short term.

China Travel, which mainly operates hotels, theme parks and leisure resorts, said its net profit for last year fell to HK$1.35 billion. Revenue slipped 2 per cent to HK$4.4 billion.

China Travel chairman Xu Muhan declined to elaborate on the proposed merger between its parent and China International Travel.

“What I can only disclose is that Hong Kong will still be the head office of the new group,” said Xu. “The restructuring will provide a potential synergy between the two groups.”

Credit Suisse expects the merger to be completed in one to three months. The plan was announced on February 23.

Hong Kong should welcome mainland Chinese tourists

On the company’s performance, Xu blamed the profit plunge on the weak performance of its hotels as mainland Chinese tourist flows to Hong Kong ebbed. Net profit of the company’s hotel operations in 2015 came to HK$112 million, a steep year-on-year drop of 48 per cent while revenue came to HK$760 million, an 18 per cent decrease.

“Revenue and net profit of five hotels in Hong Kong and Macau decreased considerably due to factors including hotel renovations in Mong Kok and Macau Metropark Hotels,” said Xu.

“A strong Hong Kong dollar and looser visa restrictions are drawing Chinese tourists to other destinations such as Japan and South Korea. We may continue to face great pressure in hotel operations this year.”

Cruise ships packed with Chinese tourists pour into Japan

The average occupancy rate of its five hotels in Hong Kong and Macau dropped to 80 per cent last year from 89 per cent in 2014. The average room rate fell to HK$811 from HK$ 930.

Xu appealed to Hong Kong hotel operators not to cut average room rates further as that would not solve the problem of the city’s slower tourist flows but instead may raise unemployment and affect service in the hospitality industry.

Shares of China Travel closed 3 per cent down at HK$2.6.

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Highlights of Slovenia: readers’ travel tips

Winning tip: President Tito’s Tearoom, Lake Bled

As you walk round Lake Bled, past Villa Bled, a little sign saying “Tearoom” points upwards through the trees. It gives no indication of the wow factor this tearoom commands. Once used by President Tito, it recently reopened with the original furniture and photos. Have a cup of coffee on the patio with its stunning floor mosaics of wild animals, while you look out over the lake towards the church, and the castle beyond. It is a treasure of pure elegance, the prices are ridiculously reasonable and the coffee just gorgeous!

Logarska Dolina landscape park

Photograph: Alamy

We came across this park – in the north of the country near the Austrian border – by accident, and thought it the most beautiful spot in the country, with just a few homes amid mountains and the greenest green you’ve ever seen. Spend a few days cycling, doing walks to the waterfall, or hanging out with your new neighbours who, we found, were more than happy to share their homemade whisky and spit-roasted pig. Stay at Lenar Tourist Farm (doubles €70 BB) and soak it all in from a hammock. The small park fee (€7 for a car) is worth it when it’s this good.

Bohinj railway to Nova Gorica

Open wagons on the Bohinj railway. Photograph: Alamy

The scenic train journey from Jesenice to Nova Gorica on the Bohinj railway takes you from the north to the Italian border in the east. In fact, the Slovenian-Italian border runs through Nova Gorica station car park! You pass through dramatic mountain scenery and follow the brilliantly turquoise Sava river, before crossing the 220-metre-long stone bridge at Solkan. Nova Gorica itself has an international border down the middle, dividing the former communist part of town in modern-day Slovenia from its more picturesque part, Gorizia in Italy.

Predjama Castle

Photograph: Alamy

If you go to Postojna to see the amazing caves, don’t miss Predjama Castle, a fortress built into a cave mouth 10km away. Erazem passage is a precipitous gap in the cave used as a hiding place when enemies attacked. If you’re brave (and don’t get claustrophobic) you can climb the slippery rocks, but the less intrepid can walk around the cave inside the castle and enjoy the eeriness.

GP Trojane restaurant

East of Ljubljana, the GP Trojane restaurant and shop is renowned for Trojane krof, a large jam doughnut that every Slovenian enjoys. It also serves many traditional dishes. To eat like a Slovenian, I recommend soup with rezanci (noodles, €2.50), and some of the many local sausages on offer (€8-10) at this beautiful place in the Sava hills.
Sam Smith

Hisa Franko, Kobarid

Kobarid is a charming little town in the stunning Julian Alps. The area has plenty to offer to adrenaline junkies and history buffs alike. Hisa Franko is a superb gourmet restaurant, and I still dream about it months later. All the dishes use seasonal ingredients which are locally sourced. Delicate flavours are combined in a magical way and dishes are accompanied by excellent Slovenian wines.


Photograph: Alamy

When you’ve done Lake Bled, don’t leave without catching the bus to Radovljica. A charming, quiet, laid-back town with a stunning medieval square and easy bus and train connections to Ljubljana, it also boasts a number of bizarre but brilliant museums, including the chance to discover the secret history of Slovenian apiculture at the Beekeeping Centre.

Kostanjevica na Krki

Božidar Jakac Art Museum

With its centre on a small island, the town of Kostanjevica na Krki is perfect for enjoying a coffee by the river Krka, or paddling around on a boat. Just nearby is Božidar Jakac Art Museum, in a former monastery dating from the 13th century and surrounded by the oak sculptures of the Forma Viva Sculpture Park.
Manca Urankar

Gingerbread Museum

Photograph: Alamy

Slovenia’s a land of castles, lakes and spine-tingling caves, so it seems fitting that it has a one-room museum dedicated to the ultimate fairytale foodstuff: gingerbread. Between Ljubljana and Bled is Radovlijca, where you’ll find (in the Old Town) Gostilna Lectar, a guesthouse-cum-restaurant-cum-shop with a downstairs secret. For €1.5, you descend the stairs for an introduction to the history of this confection, made here since 1766. It is now sold in a multitude of shapes – hearts mostly but also cars, houses, rabbits and chickens – and painstakingly iced in bright, bold colours (including your chosen gift message). Our “souvenirs” certainly didn’t last long.


Photograph: Getty Images

In the far north-west of Slovenia is a quiet pretty town called Bovec. It lies in a valley surrounded by mighty mountains and can be reached by a drive along the beautiful river Soca. It stood in for Narnia in the Prince Caspian film. Bovec attracts adrenalin junkies from around Europe but also offers less challenging pursuits. Start the day with excellent cheese borek and apple strudel from the bakery. Then feast on the activities available locally. Try rafting, kayaking or, even more exhilarating, hydrospeeding. Want a go at canyoning? Walking? There are plenty of opportunities.

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Must pack travel items

Travel season is quickly approaching. And before you jet off, I have some travel essentials you’ll want to be sure and pack.

Chic Buds Clutchette Power and Crossbody Power Purse

These were designed with the avid traveler in mind. Being out and about can leave little time to charge your phone. Chic Buds knows how important it is to have a full battery to take pictures, videos, and stay in touch with loved ones when on vacation. Their Crossbody Power Purse lets you charge your phone anywhere you go. Crafted in vegan leather, this Crossbody Power Purse is available in six colors at for just $69.99.

Then there’s the Clutchette Power in 12 different colors for $49.99

And ladies if you’re looking for more functional fashion check out Funktional Wearables.

Look chic while tracking your fitness at the next live concert without having to reveal any kind of fitness tracker. With Funktional Wearables, you can track your heart rate and your steps without ever ruining an outfit with your rubber wristband. A little window into your fitness is all you need with Funktional Wearables’ latest ‘Insight’ line of bracelets. Wear them every day or to special events.  These bracelets come in a range of sizes too, so whether your wrist is sized XS or XXL, Funktional Wearables has you covered.

They start at just $20.

Speaking of functional fashion check out these wristband headphones by Wraps.

Don’t waste any precious vacation time untangling headphones next time you travel. Wraps Headphones has combined function with fashion with their innovative earphones. When they’re not in your ears wrap them around your wrist and wear it as a stylish bracelet. These anti-tangle headphones come in three styles: wood, classic and leather.

Keep it under “wraps” for around $20.

Then ladies here are some quick and easy beauty fixes on the go.

Next time you’re running late, no need to panic. Ponilox is an easy to use hair accessory that will give you a gorgeous hairstyle in minutes! Create a chic loose bun or a try a classic twist with this revolutionary patented French comb. Ponilox features a unique pivoting barette with an elastic stretch to eliminate the potential of hair-damaging metal. Say goodbye to that annoying hair crease and hello to bohemian buns, braided twists and sleek chignons. Ponilox works with all types of hair so throw your hair up in a beautiful up-do and tackle your busy day

Best part their on sale right now and under $10!

Speaking of hair, here are some products for on the go.

Be camera ready for spring break pictures with Mixed Chicks Travel Trial Pack. This 3-piece set includes a 2 oz. shampoo to cleanse your hair, a 2 oz. deep conditioner to nourish and detangle, and a 2 oz. leave-in conditioner to define curls and control fizz. This product is also TSA friendly so you can put it in your luggage and have luscious locks wherever you go.

It’s only $9.99


For the woman who has a jam-packed schedule, Mixed Chicks’ Morning After Redefining Foam is a travel must have. Stick it in your bag and have luscious curls whenever you are on the go.

Don’t let a busy schedule stop you from your looking your best. Didn’t have enough time to wash your hair this morning? No one has to know! Now with Morning After Redefining Foam you can just apply this lightweight product generously on flat, dull and dry hair and watch as your hair comes back to life. This life saving product will redefine and energize your hair effortlessly. Take it with you on a road trip or camping and have beautiful curls on 2nd and even 3rd day after washing!

It’s only $14.99 for 8.0 ounces.

Stay fabulous while traveling with Mixed Chicks Dual Stick. Achieve a flawless look in minutes with their Dual Foundation and Bronzer. Enhance your natural beauty and show off a sun kissed glow this summer while visiting the beach. The Dual Stick is the only cosmetic product on the market that offers a 2 in 1 foundation and bronzer. The colors are creamy and offer high coverage and a silky smooth finish. You can mix, match and blend from a variety of different shades.

Get 2 for 1 for only $22.50

Never again do you have to sacrifice your natural beauty when you hit the road. Sally B’s Travel Kit has 6 of their most popular, skin loving products into easy-to-pack travel sizes and packed them into an organic cotton, zip top pouch made locally and exclusively for them. This pouch fits easily into your luggage and meets TSA liquid size standards. Forget the mess of creating your own travel sizes, because it’s done for you!

Planning to camp out at the next music festival for a long, hot weekend, and need an easy-to-carry,  and compact cure-all to take along, just in case? Green Goo is the way to go! Green Goo by Sierra Sage is made up of all the high-quality, healing ingredients your skin needs, and prides itself in using natural, organic, pure products such as Olive Oil, Vitamin E Oil, and Jojoba Oil.  Green Goo’s proprietary herb-enriched blend will heal cuts, scrapes, blisters, sunburns, chafing and poison ivy.  Green Goo also relieves dry, cracked hands and feet, treats eczema and cold sores, relieves itching and the sting of insect bites, all while reducing fine lines and signs of aging. Use it throughout the day to soothe, heal, hydrate and comfort your precious skin. The multi-purpose Green Goo comes in convenient travel tins and sticks, so it fits anywhere. For a limited time, Green Goo by Sierra Sage is offering 25% off with coupon code: SAGE25. An outdoor travel pack costs $24.95.

Bon voyage!



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What to Do When You Have a Travel Itch You Can’t Scratch

It’s hard to deny the joys of travel; it’s a pretty universally loved experience. Of course, it’s also expensive and it’s not always easy to make time for it. If you’re itching to travel but it’s not in the cards in your foreseeable future, here’s how to make do in the meantime.

Come Up With a Plan, Even a Long-Term One

Even frugal travel be pretty expensive. So expensive, in fact, that we’re quick to brush it off and say we can’t afford it. That may be painfully true, but it’s also true that many of us give up easily when it comes to our finances. A great question to ask when you feel defeated is “what if?”

For example, when I was in student loan debt, there seemed to be no way in hell I could afford to take a vacation. Just for kicks, though, I asked myself, what if I cut back on all my other spending and supercharged my debt payments? What if I picked up a side job and used that cash to pay the debt, too? What if I got a roommate to split the cost of rent? Everyone has different answers, and yours may still leave you at a dead end, or they may just be of the question.


Personally, though, I was surprised at the possibilities those answers offered, and it made me feel less stuck. Yeah, it took a couple of years of paying off debt and saving, but hey, at least I knew it wasn’t impossible. And waiting two years for a trip was better than spending two years frustrated and restless.

Once you get an idea of what you can do—and what you’re willing to do—to save for travel, you can come up with a solid plan for getting there.


You can do the same thing with your time. If you’re too busy this year to take a trip, schedule some time to come up with a plan for next year. Settle on some dates and figure out a timeline for booking flights, hotels, and so on. There’s a lot of power even in simply establishing a time frame. You go from thinking, “I’m so exhausted I could really use a vacation” to “I’m so exhausted I can’t wait for my vacation.” Even if it’s next year, at least it’s on the horizon.

Make the Most of the Wait

Oddly enough, we might be happier planning and anticipating a trip more than we are actually taking it. Research published in the Journal Applied Research in Quality of Life studied 1,530 adults planning a vacation and found:

Possibly, anticipation played an important role in explaining the observed differences in pre-trip happiness between vacationers and non-vacationers. Holiday trips are experiences which people look forward to (Miller et al. 2007). For most, the enjoyment starts weeks, even months before the holiday actually begins.

Remarkably, post-trip happiness is generally not different for vacationers and non-vacationers. While you’re saving or waiting for the time, learn the language, read about it. Set time to actually plan your trip. From picking a location to figuring out the financial part to setting certain milestones to help you get excited. Make a list of a few books you want to read on the topic. Reminisce on your old trip. Make albums with your old photos. Put up pictures.

This is good news for those of us who can’t afford to spend the time or money on travel anytime soon—in the meantime, we can plan, and if this research is any indication, planning is a big part of the enjoyment we get from travel, anyway. You might even consider setting a few planning goals every month to keep your excitement up. For example, here are some fun, actionable things you can do while you’re waiting for your next trip:


When I was waiting to pay off debt and save up for my trip, for example, I spent a year just researching all the cool places I could visit. Then, once I narrowed them down, I spent the next year researching the hell out of my destination choices. When I got there, it was a great feeling to see in person the places I’d spent so long learning about—and I had a great time learning about them that year.…

Break Out of Your Everyday Routine

Travel is fun for a lot of reasons, but when you get down to it, it’s really about novelty. We get to see someplace new. We get to learn new things and experience new cultures. Overall, we get to break out of our rut and reconnect with ourselves.

There are ways to achieve this novelty in your normal, everyday life, though. Our routines and systems might make us super productive, but it’s easy to get stuck in them, too. After a while, a routine can make you feel robotic and mindless, and you start to crave something different. Here are a few ways to combat this problem.

Take Better Breaks

If you have a habit of working through lunch or not taking real, regular breaks during the day, keep in mind: breaks keep you motivated because they’re restorative. Go outside when you take your breaks, too. Research published in Psychological Science found that people perform cognitively better after spending time in a natural setting. Regular breaks may not be as restorative as a two week trip to Hawaii, but still, they keep burnout at bay.…

Practice Mindfulness

Trendy as it may be, mindfulness serves a great, practical purpose. Namely, it keeps you motivated and focused. I’m not saying it takes the place of travel, but a lot of the things we enjoy about travel we could also get from a little mindfulness. Our own Melanie Pinola offered a helpful suggestion for incorporating mindfulness into your everyday life:

set up triggers or cues to pull you back into the present when your mind inevitably starts to wander throughout that day. For example, while eating, remember to savor each bite every time you put your fork down. At work, you can set an hourly chime or other reminder to pause in the moment. Pausing before you respond to children—or adults—can also help you become more mindful in your relationships. More (deceptively simple) practices include practicing appreciation and letting go of control.

Meditation is another way to practice being more mindful, and you can think of it as exercise for your brain.…

Tour Your Town

Maybe you wouldn’t exactly describe your town as a cultural epicenter. That’s fine—you don’t have to live in London to get some nearby novelty. Visit local museums, parks, have dinner in a different part of town. We often glorify travel as being some long, exotic journey, but chances are, there’s a lot of new stuff you can learn and see in your own neighborhood, town, or city. Or, you can plan a fun weekend road trip to a town or city nearby.…

Say Yes More Often

One easy way to break out of your comfort zone is to embrace saying yes.

When I got back from a trip last year, I vowed to make my everyday life feel more like vacation, and part of that meant saying yes to stuff more often. I get so caught up in my routine that when someone asks me to do something I normally don’t do, my knee-jerk reaction is usually: Go to a show on a Tuesday night? What are you, nuts? I decline, then spend my Tuesday night the same way I spend every other Tuesday night: watching TV and browsing Instagram.…

The point is, saying yes to stuff like that more often means I leave my routine more often. For a few months, I did a good job of following that advice. No, it wasn’t as awesome as taking a long, overseas trip, but life was more adventurous, and that did a lot for my travel craving.

Breaking out of your everyday routine might also be as simple as mixing up your environment. When I was saving up to travel, I actually moved to a different part of my city just to shake things up a bit. It’s not a possibility for everyone, but you can probably at least rearrange your living space, ask if you can move offices, or change your route to work. It’s not exactly momentous, but the goal is to break up your routine, and small actions can make that possible.

Again, none of this is to say travel isn’t worthwhile and fun for many other reasons (and worth saving up and waiting for). However, the travel itch often comes around when we feel stuck or we’re craving something new. Beyond saving up and coming up with a plan, you can feed some of the craving by making the most of the wait and making your everyday life a little more adventurous.

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Boston Bans City-Sponsored Travel To North Carolina

Boston is banning all non-essential city-sponsored travel to North Carolina in the wake of the state’s passage of a controversial law.

The law, passed last week, blocks local governments from passing anti-discrimination rules that would offer protections to gay and transgender people. Among other things, it requires people to use public restrooms that correspond to their biological sex and not necessarily their gender identity.

By a unanimous vote on Wednesday, Boston’s 13-member City Council passed the travel ban ordinance which was proposed by City Councilor Josh Zakim. There are exceptions for public safety, public health and contractual reasons.

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is. I think it’s an important statement of our values, which is what we’re talking about when we’re talking about our budgeting power and the spending power of the city,” Zakim said. “We want to make sure that we’re talking with one voice when we join millions across the country who’ve spoken out against discrimination.”

The mayors of Seattle and San Francisco have also banned non-essential travel, as have some private companies and organizations, and the state of New York.

Mayor Marty Walsh signed the measure shortly after it was passed, saying in a statement: “In Boston we believe that all individuals should be treated equally.” It goes into effect immediately.


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State Department apologizes for tweeting bizarre overseas travel warning

The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs was forced to apologize Wednesday after a tweet that appeared to offer overseas travel advice specifically for ugly Americans.

For the past several days, the bureau’s Twitter account has posted messages offering practical, straightforward travel advice for American students heading overseas, using the hashtag “springbreakingbadly”. Below are two examples.

Wednesday, however, the official counsel took a very personal turn. 

“Not a ‘10’ in the US? Then not a 10 overseas. Beware of being lured into buying expensive drinks or worse – being robbed,” the controversial tweet said.

While the message was meant to warn of potential scams initiated by personal compliments and/or alcohol, most social media users reacted with sarcasm or anger.

Inevitably, a parody account popped up, as well.

Eventually, the consular affairs bureau’s social media team deleted the tweet and posted an explanation.

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Australia Warns Against Travel to Ankara and Istanbul

The Australian government on Thursday warned its citizens against traveling to the Turkish cities of Ankara and Istanbul because of the terrorist threat.

The heightened travel warnings followed the deaths of more than 80 people in four separate suicide bombings in the two cities this year, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said.

Australians are advised to “reconsider your need to travel” to the cities — the second-highest danger warning on a four-tier scale.

“Terrorist groups continue to threaten further attacks, including targeting tourists and westerners,” Bishop said in a statement.

Provinces of Batman, Bingol, Bitlis, Gaziantep, Hakkari, Hatay, Kilis, Mardin, Sanliurfa, Siirt, Sirnak, Tunceli and Van had previously carried the same travel warning.

Turkey overall carries Australia’s second-lowest travel warning, although Australians are advised not to go within 10 kilometers (six miles) of the Syrian border.

The warning comes as thousands of Australians prepare to travel to Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula to commemorate the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps troops in an ill-fated invasion on April 25, 1915, during World War I.

Bishop said the Australian government was not aware of any specific threat to ANZAC Day services planned on the peninsula.

Australians traveling to services should minimize any transit time spent in Istanbul and Ankara, she said.

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