Planning A Stress-Free Winter Escape

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Imagine spending a crisp, clear day at a major metropolitan zoo and casually taking your time through each of the exhibits, without any of the usual crowds. Or, how about sipping a Pinot Noir at a Napa Valley vineyard and chatting with the winemakers about their passion for crafting fine wine ... an experience you're not likely to duplicate during the busy harvest season.

Whether you are visiting family for a special occasion or holiday, traveling for business or just booking a special winter retreat, don't forget to take a little extra time this season to strategize and think creatively before your trip.

Winter travel can be very rewarding, especially if you are visiting with far-away family or have the opportunity to get outside and enjoy a variety of fun winter activities.

Travel this time of year, however, also has the potential for frustration with potential airport delays and bad weather.

Be prepared by following a few key tips and tactics designed to keep you stress-free.

Selecting and booking your destination

For many winter travelers, external circumstances often dictate their destination.

For example, business travelers don't have a choice of where they're going - but they can invite their spouse, partner or family and extend the trip into a weekend mini-vacation.

For those travelers who have the freedom to choose, be resourceful. Narrow down what you hope to achieve on your trip (relax, play golf, shop) and then determine what type of climate would suit you best. (Do you want to escape winter's chill or capitalize on its frosty beauty?)

Once you've settled on your destination, it's time to shop around for the best deals on hotel, airfare and car rentals.

You may find the most value for your dollar at an upscale, mid-priced hotel - which doesn't skimp on amenities, and still offers attractive package deals with extras such as complimentary breakfast and gift cards to local establishments.

Planning activities

As with all aspects of travel, research is vital when scheduling your itinerary. Take some time beforehand to research your destination online. Simply type in your destination and you'll be provided with local weather forecasts, as well as a number of choices in local dining, entertainment, festivals, shopping, sports and more. Pick up a guidebook to take along on your trip for useful insider travel tips and to double as great reading material to help pass the time.

Coping with the weather and other mishaps

There's no doubt that unpredictable winter weather can wreak havoc on your schedule so before you leave, check the weather forecast as well as your flight, train or bus schedule, so you know up front if you'll be facing major delays. Be sure to carry "emergency" rations - snacks like apples, granola bars or crackers - and other essentials, such as books, pocket games and medications. With the number of travelers on the road, checked bags sometimes get lost along the way so take an extra change of clothing and toiletries in your carry-on. Leave valuables like costly jewelry at home or keep them close by in your carry-on. To help spot your bag on the luggage carousel, add a personalized decoration or string a bright ribbon on your luggage handle.

Following these simple tips and incorporating a little extra planning will help get you on your way.

Travel expert and award-winning author Marybeth Bond - also known as the "Gutsy Traveler" - offers these do's and don'ts to make the most of your travel this season.

  • Do prepare for delays - pack books, games and snacks.
  • Do be patient - build in extra time whenever possible.
  • Don't overbook your days - adopt a leisurely pace to make the most of your trip.
  • Do consider the comforts of a hotel over staying with relatives, for a stress-free visit.
  • Do extend business trips into weekend escapes.
  • Don't forget your hometown - local getaways can add up to big fun.
  • Don't pay too much for lodging - look into mid-priced hotels that feature special packages that include complimentary breakfast.
  • Do consider off-season getaways - you'll save money and avoid the crowds.

When choosing the hotel that's right for you and your family, be sure to take a look at what amenities they offer, to find the right fit.

  • Eating - Whether or not you plan to eat meals at your hotel, or on the go, will influence your choices. However, it's always wise to select a hotel that offers a complete range of food and beverage offerings, from a full-service restaurant and lounge, to in-room microwaves and mini fridges, to the 24-hour self-serve dining where guests can find healthy snacks, microwaveable meals and sundries.
  • Sleeping - Find out what kind of bedding hotels offer to get a good night's rest.
  • Staying Fit - Even though you're traveling, there's no reason to leave your workout schedule behind. Take advantage of the hotel's fitness center or, if you'd prefer to work out in the privacy of your own room, invest in easy to pack and use basics.

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