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Snow is still blanketing much of the country. But I’m not complaining.

In fact, I was deeply grateful for the soft, yielding snow when I was violently thrown from my dog sled. During a recent excursion in Colorado, my sled tipped over and I was dragged several yards through the snow before I tumbled off, only to be left face-down in the powder as the dogs bounded away. I couldn’t stop laughing. Besides, who could be mad at this face?


It wasn’t the canines’ fault that I went catapulting from the sled. My travel companion, who had taken the reins of the two-person sled, hadn’t quite gotten a feel for the contraption and leaned too far to the right as we rounded a sharp curve, causing the sled to capsize. The dogs know what they’re doing. It’s the humans who are responsible for keeping the sled from tipping, by balancing their weight properly as they’re pulled through twisting trails.

I was in Breckenridge, Colorado — the ski resort town that’s home to spine-chilling vertical drops at 13,000 feet. But I got my biggest adrenaline rush off the slopes, being tugged through the woods by a team of speedy Siberian huskies. I was surprised to discover that recreational dog sledding is, well, a bit treacherous. Tumbles and spills are to be expected — which is exactly why those piles of powdery snow come in handy.

We booked our excursion with Good Times Adventures, the only local dog sledding operation in the Breckenridge area. The hour-long ride through the gorgeous Swan River Valley cost $70 per person. Below are some more photos of the adorable dogs at Good Times.

husky sled dogs

sled dogs

sled dogs

Have you been dog sledding? Tell us about it!

— written by Caroline Costello

africa children kidsGot a little extra space in your suitcase? You could use it to make a difference in the lives of kids around the world.

Pack for a Purpose is a charitable organization that encourages travelers to devote five pounds’ worth of their luggage weight allowance to school supplies, medical equipment and other necessities that can be donated to locals in need. Do you really need that third pair of shoes? Leave ’em at home and instead consider bringing 400 pencils or five deflated soccer balls for local school children (each option adds up to about five pounds, according to the organization’s Web site).

Here’s how it works: You visit the site and select your destination, then the hotel or lodge where you’re staying. You’ll see a description of the charitable project(s) offered by the property as well as a list of desired donations. For example, the Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo is seeking items such as stuffed animals, baseball gloves, bath towels and T-shirts to support local orphanages. In Zambia, Kapani Camp (a luxury safari lodge) is requesting educational materials for the Yosefe School Library Refurbishment Project.

In addition to supporting a local charitable project, there’s a bonus for travelers — once you donate your five pounds of supplies, you’ve suddenly freed up that suitcase space for souvenirs to bring back home.

The country and accommodation options on the Pack for a Purpose site are currently a bit limited (there are only five hotels listed in all of South America, for instance). But you can still use the site as inspiration for your own travels. Before your next trip, contact your hotel and ask whether it supports any local charities for which donations would be welcome. If so, make a contribution and then invite the property to submit a listing on the Pack for Purpose site — it’s free.

Want to make a difference in a more hands-on way? Check out our story on Volunteer Vacations.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

piggy bank airplane air travel vacationYour vacation is planned, your bags are packed and you’re ready to fly. But did you know that even after you’ve purchased your plane tickets, you could still incur fees on your flight? It’s true. Baggage fees are the best-known a la carte charges, but there are many others, big and small, that can crop up once you reach the airport. Here are five ways to avoid them.

1. Pack light and save up to $50 in checked bag fees each way. While a few airlines still allow you to bring checked luggage without a fee (such as Southwest and many international carriers), most U.S. airlines will charge you to handle your bags. The best way to bypass this is by taking fewer things and packing them all into a carry-on bag. Do you really need a dozen shirts for a five-day trip? Chances are, you’ll only wear half of those and wish you had left the rest at home. Bring pieces that mix and match with each other. That way all the tops go with all the bottoms, and you can make three or four days’ worth of clothes last two to three weeks without wearing the same outfit twice. Women can toss in a simple dress and use easy accessories to make it seem totally new if it needs to be worn again. For men, it’s even easier: just bring a variety of ties, which take up almost no room.

Limit yourself to two pairs of shoes that look great whether dressed up or down and that are comfortable to walk in. Shoes can take up way too much space in a travel bag, which isn’t helpful when you have limited space to work with. I find shoes that go with everything in my bag and then I pack one pair and wear the bulkier of the two on the plane.

Editor’s Note: Get more space-saving ideas in What Not to Pack.

2. Bring your own food. Most flights don’t offer free meals anymore. Heck, you’re lucky if you get a free drink and a snack. If there are meals or more substantial snacks offered on a flight, they generally cost quite a bit more than you would pay if you picked them up at the grocery store (think $8 – 10 for a sandwich, $6 for a “snack box”). These are things you could make for a fraction of the price at home and bring with you. Security has no problem with food, as long as you aren’t trying to also pack pudding and a drink. I tend to stock up on 100-calorie packs before my trips and then take a nice variety in my carry-on to snack on throughout the flight. Granola bars are also easily packable and can keep you full until you reach your destination.

3. Go totally wireless. Almost all the airlines offer Wi-Fi services on their planes, but it isn’t free. Is it really that necessary to update your Facebook status mid-flight? Keep your credit card in your wallet and opt for a good book or magazine. You’ll save a minimum of $10 for each leg of your flight.

4. Bring your own headphones. If you’re lucky enough to get on a flight that offers onboard entertainment, you’ll need some headphones to participate. Remember just a few short years ago where the flight attendants practically threw handfuls of headsets through the cabin like Mardi Gras beads? Well, no more. Now if you want to watch the movies or listen to the same 12 songs on their airline radio station, you’ll be expected to shell out $3 – $5 for a pair of those less-than-optimal headphones that practically break before you’ve touched down. Most people bring an iPod or handheld gaming device on their trips, so make sure you include your own better-constructed pair that doesn’t have to be vacuum-sealed for freshness.

5. Skip the upgrade. If offered an upgrade upon check-in, think twice — especially if it’s for a relatively short flight. Being in first or business class would be nice, but the upgrade fee can leave you $50 – $100 poorer. Gripe about your loss of extra legroom if you must, but that money could go a long way toward doing something more fun than sitting while you’re actually on your trip.

— written by Shereen Rayle, Editor of Shereen Travels Cheap

passport compass travelEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

As travel catastrophes go, losing your passport ranks as one of the most annoying. Who really feels like missing an afternoon of jungle hiking or museum hopping to wait in line at the nearest U.S. Embassy? But if the worst happens, it helps to be prepared.

In 35 Travel Tips Revealed: Top Secrets of Travel Writers, Melanie Nayer writes, “You should always carry a copy of your passport when you travel, but more important is keeping that copy safe. In the event your bags are lost or stolen, what are you going to do if your passport is in the bag? Keep a copy of your passport in the sole of your shoe. Most tennis shoes have removable inserts — tuck the copy of your passport under the insert and go about your merry way. You won’t lose your shoes if you’re wearing them, and if you’re robbed in a foreign city, the mugger won’t go after your tennis shoes — so you’ll still have a copy of your passport.”

Another way to ensure that you always have a copy of your passport on hand is to make a PDF copy of the document and e-mail it to yourself — that way you can access it from anywhere. It’s also a good idea to leave a copy at home with a friend or family member.

For more ways to ease the process of replacing a passport that’s gone astray, see Lost and Stolen Passports.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

boston public garden spring flowers tulips swan boatsEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: AirTran has just rolled out an excellent three-day sale, offering low fares across its network of U.S. and Caribbean destinations. You’ll pay as little as $49 each way plus tax to fly to places like Boston, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Aruba and Bermuda. Travel is valid through May 24.

When searching for fares, keep in mind which days of the week you’re likely to find the lowest prices. If you’re flying within the U.S., you’ll save by traveling Monday through Thursday. But if you’re headed to the Caribbean, Bermuda or Mexico, off-peak fares are available Sunday through Wednesday. The travel days with the lowest prices are noted on the AirTran site.

The Catch: Be sure to check the blackout dates — they vary by itinerary and in some cases are extensive. (Restricted dates for Florida flights, for example, include March 10 – April 4, April 21 – 25 and April 30 – May 1, 2011.)

The Competition: JetBlue is currently offering flights to a number of U.S. and Caribbean destinations, including New York, Florida, California and the Dominican Republic, starting at a comparable $52 each way.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

couple hammock beach romance vacation travelSo it’s Valentine’s Day. Did you get the Hallmark card yet? The roses? The conversation hearts? The free booze on Southwest Airlines?

Yes, according to a Tweet from the airline, Southwest is giving away free “adult drinks” on all flights. Ostensibly, it’s meant to promote the airline’s tweaks to its Rapid Rewards loyalty program, but it’s timed nicely to coincide with all the lonely hearts flitting around the country today. If you miss it, not to worry: The airline is repeating the promotion on St. Patrick’s Day (hmmm …).

If you’d rather save some money than suck down a gratis gin and tonic at 30,000 feet, Spirit Airlines is offering $50 off round-trip flights with a special holiday deal. But move fast: You have to book by 11:59 p.m. ET today and fly from February 17 through March 4. Isn’t it romantic?

If you prefer the sea to the air, several cruise lines are offering special enticements for those who book over the next few days. In a sale starting today, for instance, Azamara Club Cruises is offering a bonanza of extras (a $500 onboard credit, Champagne, strawberries) for passengers booking an outside or higher-category cabin on select European itineraries. Check out the details on this and several other promotions at our sister site, Cruise Critic.

If you’re as sick of this cold winter as the rest of us, Mexico may be beckoning. Book today and you can get 50 percent off rooms at the JW Marriott Cancun Resort or the CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort. You have to reserve by 11:59 tonight and use the promo code L9Z. Rates start at just $100 a night for travel through December 12, 2011.

Don’t leave home without our Seven Secrets for a More Romantic Trip.

— written by John Deiner

Every Monday, we’ll post the answer to the previous week’s Photo Friday quiz. Play along with future photo guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).

The correct answer to last Friday’s photo guessing game is Portland, Oregon! Pictured is the Broadway Bridge over the Willamette River, which divides the city into east and west. Portland is known for its many green spaces, such as the International Rose Test Garden and the Hoyt Arboretum, and for its breweries (it has a whopping 32 of them). Learn more about the city in Portland Essentials.

Check back this Friday for another photo guessing game!

–written by Sarah Schlichter

Every Friday, we’ll feature a photo of an unidentified place here, on our blog. Think you know where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Monday to see if you were right! Get the answer in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right).

Hint: Locals walk, jog and cycle along a 1.5-mile riverfront esplanade in this bike- and brewery-friendly city.

Leave a comment below to guess the destination!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Flowers, chocolates, Champagne and … Mickey Mouse?

If Disney characters don’t exactly top your list of prerequisites for romance, you might be surprised by the findings of a recent Orbitz survey on Valentine’s Day travel. Based on bookings for the coming weekend, the site named its three most popular destinations for Valentine’s Day getaways: Las Vegas, Orlando and Cancun.

I’m not too shocked that Sin City made the list, considering that some 100,000 couples tie the knot there each year. But fighting the kiddie hordes at Disney World or getting trashed with a bunch of coeds in Cancun doesn’t really strike me as the epitome of romance.

If you’re dreaming of a getaway just for two, uncluttered by casinos and crowds, we have a few less-traveled alternatives to recommend:

1. For a truly serene desert getaway, forget about Las Vegas and head for Sedona, Arizona. Winter is one of the quietest times of year here, and the area’s trademark red rocks are often lightly dusted with snow. This is the perfect season for you and your partner to cozy up together in a romantic bed and breakfast, or indulge in a couples’ massage at one of the area’s many spas.

sedona red rocks snow winter arizona

2. Just a few hours southwest of Orlando, the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island feel a world away. By day, you can go kayaking, explore the secluded shores of Lovers Key and collect seashells as mementos of your trip (this part of Florida is one of the country’s best spots for shelling). By night, you can sit on the sand with your sweetheart and watch the sun sink down into the Gulf of Mexico. Learn more in Florida’s Many Faces and Places.

fort myers beach florida

3. Skip the mega-resorts and hard-partying atmosphere of Cancun and head instead to St. John, the least developed of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two-thirds of the island is protected within Virgin Islands National Park, including the soft sands of Trunk Bay; its calm, clear waters and wide, white beach make this a perfect spot for snorkeling, swimming and relaxing in the sand. Couples can go hiking in the national park or take a scenic horseback ride through the mountains. Learn more in St. John Essentials.

trunk bay st john usvi

Don’t miss our Seven Secrets for a More Romantic Trip.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

car map man lost travelIs it dangerous to drive after dark in Ireland?

That question was posted on our message boards earlier this week by a reader planning an upcoming trip to the Emerald Isle. While several members offered reassurance that driving in Ireland doesn’t necessarily require careening along narrow cliff-side roads with no guard rails, the question isn’t an unreasonable one. No matter where you’re headed — and which side of the road you’re driving on — navigating a rental car around a foreign country can be one of travel’s most daunting experiences.

Years ago, a companion and I enjoyed a scenic but stressful drive along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, dodging Vespas and trying to ogle the gorgeous views of the Mediterranean Sea without missing a hairpin turn and hurtling into said sea. In the Caribbean, we steered around potholes big enough to deserve their own ZIP code. In Scotland, the country roads were so tight that we had to get up close and personal with “hairy coos” in the fields just to let other drivers pass in the opposite direction.

It’s all part of the fun of travel (or at least that’s what I tell myself after I get home, when I’m spinning tall tales of my adventures on the road). But let’s be honest: sometimes the effort isn’t worth it. In destinations with a robust public transportation system, I prefer to hop on a train and leave the driving to the professionals.

For places where that’s not a practical option (like, say, Ireland after dark), it’s best to slow down, invest in a good GPS unit and drive defensively. For more help, see our International Car Rental Tips.

What’s your best advice for driving in a foreign country?

— written by Sarah Schlichter