What You Need To Know About Travel Insurance

Do you really need to buy travel insurance? Get the facts and find out.
Do you really need to buy travel insurance? Get the facts and find out.

Chances are great that you’ve been faced with the issue of whether or not to buy travel insurance before. If you’re like most people you probably didn’t buy it, and that may have been a wise choice. However, it’s important to understand what you need to know about travel insurance if you want to make a smart decision about whether or not to use it.

The Basics

There are four kinds of travel insurance generally, along with several add-ons and variations. The big four are: Trip Cancellation, Lost Personal Effects and Baggage, Emergency Medical, and Accidental Death. Variations and add-ons include 24 Hour Traveler Assistance, Dental, Emergency Evacuation, Rental Car Collision/Damage, and Travel Delay. How much travel insurance costs depends on your age, what kind of coverage you’re getting, and the total cost of the trip. According to the Insurance Information Institute, typical policies run about 5 to 7 percent of the cost of the trip. The majority of policies are sold by travel industry professionals who also earn commissions on sales.

Doing Double Duty?

Most people buy travel insurance to reassure themselves about the many “what ifs” inherent to travel. What if I have to cancel my trip? What if someone gets sick or injured? What if there’s a hurricane and we can’t go or get stuck? What if you’re robbed or hurt?

However, many travel insurance purchases are unnecessary for travelers with auto, health, homeowners, and/or life insurance. You may also be covered by your credit card company. So what kind of coverage do you need, and what’s just overkill?

According to Consumer Reports, it’s a good idea to avoid policies that just cover less serious, more manageable losses like those from luggage loss. You should also consider avoiding policies that cover only part of a given risk. And make sure you’re buying what you need. If you’re worried about death, what you really need is life insurance which will cover you not just on your flight, but in every situation.

Important Travel Insurance Issues

There are some good reasons to consider travel insurance. Check your existing health insurance policy for details; many don’t cover overseas medical treatment, and even more exclude costs from emergency evacuations to healthcare facilities, no matter how necessary. If this is an issue for you, be sure to have a conversation with your health insurance company to find out how likely you are to be covered, and travel with the contact information of preferred providers in the area you’re visiting. Most travel insurance policies will cover medical expenses regardless of which facility you end up in. Are you doing adventure travel with lots of physical activity? Are you older or in poor health? These kinds of questions influence the importance of travel insurance in your case.

Emergency Evacuation coverage is really important if you’re traveling in certain areas for more active, physical activities. Medical evacuations are expensive; in North America they can run $25,000, and in Europe, up to $50,000. If you’re trekking in remote parts of Asia, whitewater kayaking in South America, or climbing a mountain in Africa, you might run up an even higher bill. This is a benefit that makes a lot of sense, especially for adventure travelers.

Travel Protection is the insurance that covers, at least in part, the cost of prepaid reservations in case of canceled, delayed, or interrupted travel. This makes the most sense if you’ve bought everything in advance, or if your reservations are very expensive. Remember to make sure you’re not already covered; the credit card you used to purchase your reservations might cover this.

Baggage Protection is a mixed bag. Not only do most airlines reimburse you for lost luggage, but many credit cards do too. If you do feel you need coverage, make sure you’re getting what you’re hoping to. If you carry a lot of costly items with you that you can’t do without, a policy may benefit you—but make sure the limits of it will actually replace your things, and that the kinds of loss you’re worried about are covered.

Accidental Death and Dismemberment policies are fairly limited in the realm of travel insurance. Your best bet for accidental death is probably term life. And if you’re very worried about dismemberment, check to see what the actual benefits are (and maybe be careful when you go!).

Shop Wisely

A great way to save money is to buy travel insurance through an online broker rather than a travel booking site or travel agent who might be after a commission. There are some websites like insuremytrip.com that aggregate travel policy offerings from many companies, making comparison shopping easier. Some of these can also give you more of what you need to know about travel insurance in the form of solid, researched information. Avoid buying insurance directly from your cruise line or tour company; if they go bankrupt they won’t make good on your policy. And before you sign on the dotted line, get a sample copy of the policy and review it with an agent from the company to ensure that your specific worries are covered.

The Bottom Line

Knowing the ins and outs of your existing insurance coverage and the benefits from your bank and credit cards is essential to your travel insurance decision. Just as important? Not only knowing the factors that will affect your trip, and knowing what your end goals are. And if you’re the kind who always worries, what you need to know about travel insurance may just be that it’s the best way for you to actually enjoy your travel.

Pros and Cons of Using a Travel Agent

Is it still wise to use a travel agent?
Is it still wise to use a travel agent?

Traveling is so different than it once was; to book much of anything you really needed to use a travel agent. However, now that almost everything is online, you probably book a lot of travel yourself. So is there are reason to use a travel agent anymore? In reality, there are the pros and cons of using a travel agent—and also to booking online on your own:

Advice and Insight into the Industry

Pro: Agents often know the best days and times to travel, how early you should book to save the most, and which attractions and resorts are the most inviting. They are also more adept with warning you about advisories and risks, not to mention obscure must-sees that you otherwise might miss.

Con: Travel websites put most of their resources into accessing many different deals and travel options. For this reason you may be able to find all kinds of choices yourself just by searching effectively.

Price: The Travel Agent’s Cost

Pro: You often don’t pay any more for using an agent because most travel agents get referral fees or commissions for booking your trip.

Con: But sometimes you do pay more! Airlines, for example, don’t pay commissions so you might get charged a fee by a travel agent who books your flight. This factor can also influence which trips your travel agent recommends or which deals they show you.

Access to Better Deals

Pro: Speaking of great deals, travel agents have plenty of industry contacts and are likely to know about all of the deals and discounts. If you’re looking for a package vacation, an agent can save you a lot of money.

Con: Sometimes doing the searching for great deals is what gives you the most insight about possible places to stay and things to do.

Keep It Simple

Pro: Finding the best deal for every aspect of a complicated, multi-destination trip can be exhausting and time-consuming if you’re not a pro. If you want to simplify the process for yourself a travel agent is a must.

Con: Unless your trip is complicated a travel agent might be overkill. If you’re an experienced traveler, you may find the process simpler than you think. And when you rely on a travel agent you have to interact, wait for business hours, and otherwise deal with someone else’s schedule.

Fewer Surprises

Pro: Travel agents can minimize the number of unpleasant surprises you get on your trip. This is because they know what a place is like in reality, not according to whatever stock photos are on the website.

Con: Your travel agent isn’t you; they may have intended to book you into a “luxury” resort, but you and your agent may have different ideas about luxury.

Service

Pro: When something goes wrong on a vacation—like missed connections or lost documents—a travel agent can help you recover quickly. You’re also less likely to get “bumped” from a flight or otherwise shuffled around. And if you’ve ever tried to contact customer service on an online travel website, you already know that this isn’t their forte.

Con: In many cases a travel agent might only refer you to the service representatives of whatever airline, resort, or cruise operator you’re booked with.

Last Minute Changes

Pro: What happens when you check in only to discover you hate the room they’ve given you? Hint: the online websites can’t help you with this, but a travel agent may be able to. Your travel agent can also update you about changes to your flights and other connections.

Con: If you’re already in the middle of your trip and want to make a last second detour, booking online might save you from waiting for a travel agent. If you DIY you can instantly gratify your desire to deviate from the plan.

The Bottom Line

So, considering the pros and cons of using a travel agent, what’s the best choice? The most important factors are your personal preferences and the type of trip you’re interested in. Weigh the pros and cons in the context of you on your desired vacation and you’ll be more likely to choice wisely.

Great Ways to Stay Cool With Your Kids

Make this summer the best one yet for you and your kids
Make this summer the best one yet for you and your kids

Already planning on ways to beat the heat this summer? There are so many awesome things you can do with your kids to stay busy and keep cool. Check out these fun ideas:

Join the Club

Check for kids’ clubs at your local library, community center, or college. You’ll be surprised at how many opportunities are out there, especially in urban and suburban areas. Why not stay cool with your kids while getting into fun new hobbies?

Get Away

If the summer equivalent of “cabin fever” has you down, improve your outlook and your kids’ dispositions by taking a quick weekend trip. You don’t have to break the bank or take time off of work to have a really special weekend together. Head out to camp for a night or two or take in the local culture in another town, exploring just for fun as you stay cool with your kids.

Freezer Fun

Get your kids active in the kitchen while improving the quality of dessert time this summer. Use fresh, local produce to make amazing and beautiful popsicles with just a few dollars and some ice pop molds. Try for some funky, unusual flavor combinations to mix it up. Definitely one of the tastiest ways to stay cool with your kids!

Stay Hydrated and Learn Science

Want to do something fun and interesting—all while learning about science? Check out a homemade water bottle recipe. Your kids will love making these amazing, edible “bubbles” of water all year-round.

Back to Nature

If it’s hot where you are, get outside in a beautiful setting to enjoy nature. Events like the Meadowlark Nature Festival, a five-day event near Penticton Lakeside Resort featuring fantastic programs for kids, will entertain your whole family while getting you outside in amazing weather.

Whether you live where summer is a welcome relief after a long, icy winter or where summer is months of miserable heat, there are plenty of ways to make summer awesome and stay cool with your kids. We can’t wait to see you here!

What’s all this Easter Bunny Business Anyway?

Photo of a bunny in a meadow of flowersGlorious spring has finally arrived, and despite the rather mild winter us BC-ershave enjoyed these past several months, (while the lucky ones ice-climb Niagra Falls and dig themselves out of their snow-trapped houses), we can’t help but smile at the induction of spring.  Easter, a hallmark of the season, is just around the corner.  When many of us think of Easter we either think: fabulous, scrumptious brunch buffet, quality family time conversing around the table, pastel colors and festive spring designs or hunting for those notorious chocolate eggs. Oh yeah.  And then there’s the part about the resurrection of Christ.  Yes, there’s something very juxtaposing about this rather peculiar holiday.  For many, Easteris a non secular holiday – an excuse to eat more chocolate (as if we didn’t have get our fair share at Christmas and Valentine’s).  However for others, Easter is one of the most important of all religious holidays.  So how do we, as a society, reconcile the paradoxical idea of a large bunny hoping around delivering chocolate eggs in a made-to-look-like-bird-nest-basket during the night for all the little boys and girls,with the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  While most of us follow and accept these peculiar customs without a second thought, (as they are so well ingrained in our commercial culture), if we were to actually take a moment to think about why, we would find that ironically, bunnies and eggs enjoy a close symbolic relationship with Eastertide.

Traditionally rooted in the history of Christianity, Easter is the most significant feast in the Christian liturgical year and similar to Christmas, it commemorates a mythical figure that bears gifts to children the night before its particular holiday. The duplicitous symbolism of this date allows for many people from all walks of life to enjoy and partake in its celebration, making it uniquely versatile.  While early 16th century accounts from south-western Germany and the Holy Roman Empire detail the “Easter Hare” as a legendary being who gives eggs to young children, the contemporary version of the Easter Bunny that we all know and lovetoday did not emerge in North America until the 18th century, (a custom brought over by European settlers).  Symbols of the hare (or rabbit) and eggs centre around the Spring Equinox, representing a multilateral approach to fertility, whereby springtime brings forth new life, crops, food, flowers, greenery, longer days, and warmth after a barren winter, (epitomized by the notoriously reproducing rabbit and the egg).  Religiously speaking, the egg may directly correlate to the resurrection of Christ, as an egg encloses and conserves within it, new life -the yolk of our renewed salvation.  Moreover, whereas Easter marks the end of Lent, habitually, there would have been an abundance of eggs during this time for which to make use of. The Easter egg, as a popular symbol of new life, is commonly celebrated in folk traditions all across the Slavic nations.photo of an Easter basket with eggs and flowers in it

Although the origin of the conventional custom of coloring eggs is unknown, it has its bearings in both seasonal and religious sentiments. Natural dyes within flower petals and root vegetables, when boiled with eggs, will turn the shells various colours, (thus making this custom very seasonally-specific) while many Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church customarily dye their Easter eggs red, in acknowledgment of the blood of the sacrificed Christ. There exists numerous egg-decorating techniques worldwide, and the giving and sharing of decorated eggs varies from country to country, be it a representation of friendship, love, good wishes, unity and appreciation.

So whether you choose to celebrate Easter as a religious or secular holiday,Easter is nonetheless a great excuse to get together with friends and family and celebrate the start of this incredible season, (and eat some more chocolate!)

Weighing In: The New GMO Non-Browning Apple

gmo-appleIn this emerging world of Food Inc.-enthused, health-conscious pundits, (where magazine articles have made experts of us all in one way or another), the demand for more fresh, organic, locally-sourced and naturally-derived products has given birth not just to the hipster movement, (yes, love it or hate it) but to a whole new breed of thinkers and doers.  For the first time in decades, we, the consumer, have regained some kind of control over our food source by choosing to buy or not to buy certain products. In doing so, we bear witness to the vast social, environmental, political and fiscal implications of such power projected on a global scale.  It’s taken a little bit of time, but slowly we’re learning and growing, building our houses out of much stronger materials.  First hay, then sticks, now bricks.  For better or worse, the Information Age, has opened our hearts and minds to the endowment of knowledge, making three very healthy, nut-raised, antibiotic-free porkers out of our three little piggies and one, terrible big bad wolf from the GMO food industry.

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are one of the biggest polarizing issues of our time, crossing the Rubicon into what many believe, is dangerous and hostile territory.  A surefire game-changer in the way we think about food and treat food, the GMO movement has been a formidable force in global food production over the past 20 years, prompting fierce debate over its necessity and validity.  Currently, at the centre of controversy, is Okanagan Specialty Fruits, (OSF), a small Canadian company, based out of Summerland, British Columbia. Over the past decade OSF have been working on developing an genetically engineered, non-browning apple, which the company has coined, the Arctic
Apple.  Due to the genetically altering process by which it is grown, this particular apple does not turn brown after its been bruised or sliced.  At least not for several weeks.  Recently, OSF has received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to market and commercially distribute it’s genetically modified apple, selling their technology to Intrexon Corporation, for a cool $41 million.  The first batch of these GE apples are set to be sold in select, small test markets in late-2016.  Now OSF is setting its sights on genetically engineering golden delicious and granny smith apple varieties, as well as gala and fuji in the near future.  A non-browning apple may not sound incredibly threatening, maybe even enticing – after all – who likes eating brown fruit?  Yet, browning may not be the problem. When dealing with all GMO products, the question is not – can we, it’s, should we, and why?

Although somewhat of an aesthetic nuisance, apples, as well as bananas, pears, avocados and other fruits are meant to turn brown naturally after they’ve been exposed to the air.  Targeted by one particular enzyme, polyphenol oxidase, oxidation in apples occurs when oxygenated iron cofactors within the fruit react, losing electrons to molecules in the air. But apart from being somewhat visually unappealing, browning does not cause the fruit to go off, nor does it alter the flavour or texture of the fruit.  So where, might you ask, is the need for a non-browning apple?  Despite the fact that many of us (especially our children) tend to be visual eaters by habit and instinct, to contest browning in fruit, seems rather trivial, especially when we are faced with far more real concerns, like world hunger, drought, global climate change, the destruction of natural habitats and our environment.  Perhaps conjured by a Mary Antoinette alter-ego, in its ownHameau de la Reine narrative, the arctic apple has become the hobby farm of our time, masquerading as a working farm.   Of course we want to pick our own eggs, just so long as they’re not covered in feathers and mud.  After all, we don’t really want to think about where they come from just so long as they look pretty.Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 7.53.11 AM
 

When most of us think, GMO, we think, mutated chemical-derived “thing.”  The “it” of the food industry. But in fact, almost everything that we eat today has been genetically modified in some way through the historical, agricultural practices of our ancestors thousands of years ago.  Foods created by merging DNA from different species, or by artificially selecting and then replicating particular features and traits for specific purposes, (much like the kind of selective breeding we’ve seen in domestic plants and animals over the course of history) can all be referred to as GMO.  Before the advent of agriculture, our ancestors lived off of the limited food varieties and nutrients that occurred naturally in the wild.  However, once farming practices took hold, selectively breeding animals and plants to be bigger, hardier and easier to manage, helped create established settlements, and with it, social contract and civilization. From chickens to cows, kale, broccoli, cabbage and tomatoes, almonds, apples and apricots, wheat and corn, much of our food source has been the subject of historical selective breading. Although biotechnology and GMO  looks quite different today than it did 10,000 years ago, the principal theory remains the same: genetically altering components of a particular product for a particular desired outcome.  So what’s the harm with a genetically modified apple? 

Primarily designed for fast food companies and food processing companies, the Arctic Apple was not conceived as a benefit to the general public, rather as a benefit to multinational enterprise.  Designed to look fresh when they’re not, Arctic Apples may be downright deceiving, and somewhat counterintuitive.  A 2012 poll commission by the BC Fruit Growers’ Association targeting the Arctic Apple, demonstrated significant concern among the public, with 69 percent of respondents opposing approval.  Many believe that contamination from GM apples may pose a risk to their organic and natural counterparts, while the spontaneous spreading of apples seeds and pollen from the GM apple trees by birds, bees and other pollinating insects cannot realistically be controlled.  Others contend that Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency should not be using public funds to review a GM apple without first consulting farmers or consumers.  Health concerns have also been raised.  Many studies have shown links between certain GMO foods and allergies, (yellow corn and an engineered soya bean containing Brazilian nut protein are case in point) as well as possible links to immune reactions and cancer.  Lastly, it may be argued that supportingGMOs, in any shape or form, has become widely synonymous with supporting a degradation of our global environment, as well as consumer independence. While GMOs have developed increasing resistance to widespread applications of pesticides and herbicides, we are now using more chemicals, which costs farmers, causes damage to the environment and raises further health concerns, (not to mention the self-supporting features of the GMO industry – Monsanto and Round-Up?  Case in point).  Many countries around the world have chosen to ban the use of GMOs, or at least limit their applications.  Italy, Austria, France and Germany have either banned all GE crops and trails outright, or have placed bans on certain GE crops such as GM maize and rapeseed.  Other countries that have followed in suit.  Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Switzerland, U.K., Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Thaliand, Philippines, Saudia Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Brazil and Paraguay. 

The GMO question should be simple: Why?  Why GMO?  Is it benefiting the public?  Is it helping the environment?  Is it improving world hunger?  Or is it simple about profit margins and the bottom line?  We have to ask ourselves: isGMO necessary?  Of course while the price of avoiding GMOs may mean a higher grocery bill, at the end of the day, its not just about money spent at the till, its about investing in our future and our children’s future, and the choice is ours. Every day, when we cast our vote at the supermarket, by choosing to buy certain products over others, we should, each of us, take a moment to really think about who we’re voting for and what our choices could mean for our world and posterity.

Traveling Solo: Why You Need To Travel Alone At Least Once

Traveling alone is good for the soul.
Traveling alone is good for the soul.

Traveling is wonderful no matter how you do it, but there’s something really special about traveling solo. The first time I did it I was much younger, and although I was excited I was nervous, too. I didn’t need to be, and you don’t either; in fact, I can assure you without reservation that everyone needs to travel alone, regularly if possible, but at least once. Here’s why.

It’s All About You

We should all be ourselves all of the time, but most of us fail at this at least some of the time when surrounded by other people who want or need things from us. Traveling solo, especially far from home, you can be yourself, and you don’t care who knows it. Being able to act, eat, dress, and say whatever you feel like replenishes your reserves.

You get to choose each and every stop, and do and see whatever you want. What a luxury, to know your own agenda is the only one and to be free from the expectations of other people! And why bother holding back your opinions? You’ll never see anyone around you again. You may just learn to bring that courage back home with you, too.

It’s Also About Meeting Unforgettable People

Traveling with people you already know can actually prevent you from making meaningful new connections with people you meet. Traveling solo will expose you to a cadre of people from around the world who are interested in things, and independent enough to make things happen on their own. You won’t miss out on interesting interactions with people you typically lose by focusing as a team on the next objective, and getting from point A to point B.

Have you ever wasted an evening in a lively conversation with a porter or playing cards in a plaza with people who didn’t speak your language? I have. Do it. You’ll look back on those times happily for your whole life, I promise.

Ditch Your Dead Weight

Part of why you need a getaway is your everyday surroundings. No matter how awesome your life is, sometimes you just need a total disconnect for a little while. And as you rejuvenate yourself you can take stock of the toxic people in your life more accurately. Oh, and by the way: just turn the phone off until you really need it. If your Facebook buddies either a) can’t tell you’re gone, or b) are intimately familiar with your trip as it happens, you’re doing it wrong. Whatever is in your inbox will keep.

Bravery And Independence: You Need Them

Traveling solo, especially if you never have, builds up your confidence and self-esteem. It shows you your reserves of courage, and once you’re aware of them you’ll never forget them again. One of my first solo trips was to learn to hang glide in Utah. I broke some toes and decided to take to the road, finding hot springs and awesome hiking from Arizona to Idaho as I enjoyed the freedom of my own choices.

The next time I went to Guatemala, eager to learn Spanish and see a million different things. If I had been too scared to try it I would have missed out on climbing an active volcano, traveling in a microbus to a village above the cloud line, and enjoying movies about Che Guevara while sipping hibiscus tea and sitting on a bench seat that had once been inside a classic American car.

On Your Own Time

It seems like we are always waiting for other people, for the right moment, for things to get better. Traveling alone lets you do things on your own time. Blow off the day’s plan if you want; it’s your dime. Eat whatever foods you like, unrestrained by the many food foibles, allergies, and restrictions of the other people in your world. You may even get enough of your own identity back that it never disappears again.

The Bottom Line

What if something goes wrong? Not if, when. And it won’t matter, you can handle it. The life-changing experience of really being on your own, doing exactly what you want when you want to, and interacting with totally new people in genuine ways is yours to savor. And who knows where you’ll end up next? If you’re really lucky (and smart!) you’ll end up at an idyllic setting like that we enjoy here at Penticton Lakeside Resort!

Casino Chic 2015: Best Casinos Worldwide

Some of our best casino picks for 2015
Some of our best casino picks for 2015

If nothing sounds more exciting to you than the constant, adrenaline-fueled night life of the casino, then this is your ultimate guide. Casino Chic is in full force for millions around the world, and these are the absolute best destinations worldwide for lovers of the lifestyle. Check out our list of best casinos worldwide.

Macau: City of Dreams

For the adults-only, high-end experience, spend some time at the City of Dreams on the Cotai Strip, certainly one of the best casinos worldwide. Its chief competitor, the Venetian, provides the family-friendly experience, which might detract from the whole if you’re a real aficionado. The City of Dreams boasts 420,000 square feet of space filled with lush décor and around 400 gaming tables and 1,300 gaming machines. Play baccarat, big wheel, blackjack, sic bo, fan tan, craps, whatever you like. See the hot TABOO cabaret show and watch the Red Dragon, the biggest poker tournament in Asia, which takes place every month.

Caribbean: Ritz-Carlton San Juan, Puerto Rico

Ritz-Carlton luxury and the Bahamas commitment to entertainment and relaxation make this destination among the best anywhere. If you get tired of playing at the Ritz-Carlton San Juan, hit the spa or soak up the sun on gorgeous beaches on the eight acres of the property. Play blackjack, let-it-ride games, mini baccarat, slots, and roulette in elegant settings. And if you still need something else to do you can visit island attractions like the Bacardi Rum Distillery or El Yunque Rainforest. This beautiful, sumptuous choice earns it spot among the best casinos worldwide.

Africa: Mazagan, Morocco

Located about an hour from Casablanca, the five-star Mazagan Beach and Golf Resort is truly a desert oasis. It looks like a fortress and is self-sufficient for even the most discerning traveler. The casino itself is right out of the Arabian Nights, with 46 gaming tables in exclusive, private gaming rooms for baccarat, blackjack, roulette, and other amusements—not to mention the more than 450 slots. If you tire of gaming you’ll already be dressed for fine dining thanks to the dress code; enjoy anything from French cuisine to local fare in Berber tents under the stars. Or simply relax on the private beach, pamper yourself in the ocean-view spa rooms, or play eighteen-holes on Gary Player’s championship golf course.

Monaco: Casino de Monaco

Enjoy the classic James Bond casino experience at Casino de Monaco. The European institution consists of five chic locations including the Bay Casino, Casino Café de Paris, Casino d’Été, Casino de Monte-Carlo, and Sun Casino. A truly world-class experience, Casino de Monaco is owned by the Societe des Bains de Mer de Monaco, part royalty and part government of Monaco. Very traditional yet energetic and exciting, this gem among the best casinos worldwide is so exclusive that local citizens of Monaco are not permitted on the premises.

US Outside Las Vegas: Foxwoods, Connecticut

If you’re worried about running into the dull plodding of austere, old money and Ivy League drab in Connecticut, worry no more. One of the best reasons to visit the state is the Foxwoods Resort Casino. Nestled into peaceful greenery in Ledyard, Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequot Reservation are 4.7 million square feet of gaming delight. The Foxwoods’ excess of 380 gaming tables offer poker, blackjack, roulette, and craps, among other games. And if you prefer the one-armed bandit, you have 6,300 slot machines to choose from. Stay in the modern Fox Tower or rent a private designer villa—complete with its own butler. And since the property houses six casinos in total, more than 30 restaurants, your choice of luxurious spas, comedy clubs and night clubs, a Rees Jones-designed championship golf course and golf academy, swanky shopping, and all manner of other amusements, you’ll be hard-pressed to find yourself bored.

Las Vegas: MGM Grand

The MGM Grand Casino is situated inside the world’s third largest hotel. The casino itself features one of the largest gaming floors in the world capital of gaming, Las Vegas. The 171,500 square foot gaming floor boasts 139 gaming tables and 2,500 slot machines—the machines alone with payouts of as much as $500,000. The avid sports fan in you will be thrilled to bet on everything from football to MMA in the state-of-the-art sports area with its 60 plasma televisions. There are plenty of options for stashing the kids here, too. And if you want to take in a show, you’re in luck: the MGM Grand features a world-class entertainment schedule.

The Bottom Line

There are so many choices for your gaming vacation, each more sumptuous than the last. These are the best destinations worldwide for good reason. This year’s Casino Chic picks collectively offer you any kind of food, entertainment, and gaming experience you could hope for.

Best Spring Break Trips Right Now

If you can't be here with us, do the next best thing.
If you can’t be here with us, do the next best thing.

Although most of us aren’t in school anymore, Spring Break is still a fantastic time to travel. By traveling during Spring Break you take advantage of the beautiful, temperate weather in most places, and avoid the summer travel crush. Check out our list of best Spring Break trips right now–aside from the obvious, Penticton Lakeside Resort!–for different ways to spend your week.

Best Spring Break Trips On A Shoestring

Who doesn’t need to save a buck here and there? You can enjoy a fabulous Spring Break trip without blowing your budget. Our pick? Sanibel Island, Florida. Spring Break falls within the high season for the area, but you can save money by avoiding the resorts and instead renting a condo for the week or finding a basic hotel. And one of the best ways to enjoy the island is also the cheapest: on a rented bike.

Next choice? Costa Rica. There’s so much to do here, from lounging on the beach to hiking a volcano, and from zip-lining through the rainforest canopy to visiting a nature preserve. You’ll love the weather and sights, and you can stay in a stunning little cottage with breakfast for far less than $100 per night.

Best Spring Break Trips For A Splurge

A truly exotic beach vacation can be a life-changing experience if you can afford it. Our pick? St. Barts in the Caribbean. The island is home to many stunning villas for rent and a number of five-star resorts as well. Spend your time tooling around the island in a rental and relaxing on some of the world’s most pristine white sand beaches. And don’t forget to bring an appetite; some of the world’s best chefs prepare new menus daily on the island.

Want an even more over-the-top destination? Try Mustique, an island devoted entirely to superrich travelers located between St. Vincent and the Grenadines. While you’re there say hi to the royals and rockstars.

Best Spring Break For Families

Want to have a great time with your kids—and retain the option to have a great time without them, too? Check out One & Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, Mexico. It’s a luxurious beach resort and it offers an amazing array of family-friendly options. You’ll love the nightly story reading program, the free programs for kids ages 4 to 12, and the fact that you can get some time to yourself around the gorgeous adults-only pool or at the spa.

Another great choice? Club Med, any of them, but especially Ixtapa, Mexico and Sandpiper Bay, Florida. Like One & Only Palmilla, Club Med destinations are always perfect for even the tiniest travelers. Even if you have a very small child, Club Med will offer a range of services for them, from in-room babysitting to fun activities. Meanwhile you can relax in various adults-only areas.

Best Spring Break Trips For Adventures

Ready to do something new—something fun, but just a little scary? Learn to surf in Hanalei Bay, a world-famous surfing mecca on Kauai, Hawaii. Kauai is the least populated of the major islands, and still wild and remote in some places. You can also risk your neck on land hiking the Kalalau Trail, one of the world’s most dangerous—and beautiful!—hikes.

Not good enough for you? How about taking a dog sled across Lapland in Sweden to observe the Northern Lights? You’ll make between 25 and 50 kilometers a day and sleep in cabins.

Best Spring Break Trips For Solos

One of the coolest things to do as a solo traveler is hit a destination that’s world-famous, a once-in-a-lifetime trip. That’s because you are bound to meet amazing people from around the world on a trip like that, and you’ll adore the top tier company (when you’re not reveling in having your whole life to yourself for a week). Our pick? The trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. It is impossible to visit the place without feeling an amazing sense of wonder, and you’ll also love your time in Lima. Do yourself a special favor and sample some of the seemingly endless varieties of ceviche while you’re there.

If you’re looking for an alternative closer to sea level, visit another World Heritage Site, not to mention the seventh wonder of the world: Angkor Wat in Cambodia. You’ll find the ancient stone structures of the Khmer Empire nestled in lush rainforests, a striking contrast to the modern city of Phnom Penh.

The Bottom Line

Getting the travel bug yet? Go ahead, it’s a healthy illness, we promise. Enjoy one of these compelling adventures. Maybe you can settle the question of which of the best Spring Break trips right now is actually the hands-down winner.

A One Way Ticket To Mars. Would you go?

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Have you ever looked up at the planets and stars littering our night skies and wondered what it would be like to travel among them?  To abscond from the familiars of our Mother’s green and blue cradle, and retrace an interplanetary narrative that began 4.5 billion years ago?  Imagine your life, a rogue earthling, funneling through the starry abyss in an ambit of alien landscapes and bottomless pockets of unknown.  How would you feel, leaving everything behind, without the gravity of correlation or context?  Life, redefined by a whole new set of doctrines and languages would work to redefine you.  The daily, leaping in a weightless state from one exotic to the next, fast becoming a series of inexplicable exploits.  Perhaps you are consumed with a fearful sort of pride.  After all, you were one among a few chosen to participate in a revolutionary, unprecedented human experiment, setting you on a one-way trajectory through space.   Blazing trail for the rest of your species, you are a kind of martyr.  You gave up a lot to be here.  Walks in the rain, breeze on your face, sounds of birds, cars, airplanes – now the echoes of a past life that haunt an endless horizon of undulating rubble.  Prints left in red dust by your space suit mark the successions of your own relativism.  Nothing in space is absolute.  It is the final frontier and the great leveler.  Out here, humanity is not what it used to be.  Instead, it is pared down to a thickening reduction.  The flavour, always on the tip of your tongue, no matter how much hot water you add to the freeze fried mush you’ve been consuming for the past year.  You don’t belong here, and yet, here you are – defying all odds in Total Recall tribute, living outside intuition and common sense by the paradox that gave birth to the dream of the red planet.  The red planet.  Mars.  Your new home.  Named after the Roman god of war, you get the sense he’s never too far away.  Your eyes scan the combat zone of your new life.   From the moment you landed, Mars has challenged you unlike you’ve ever been challenged before.  Perhaps this place may just be your redeemer.  Or maybe your destroyer.  You think about the ones you left behind.  A brother.  Mother.  Friends and family.  Yourself.  Sometimes they feel like figments of your imagination, belonging to another time and place, lost among the infinite layers of reality that line the space in between.  You think about your home.  Earth.  Just 225,300,00 km away.  Now that you’re finally here, it’s easier to put things into perspective, mostly because that perspective grows exponentially each and every moment that passes.  There’s room now in your heart and mind for contravention.  You are no longer in a fixed state, living perhaps for the first time, outside the confines and preconditions of your gender, age, race, ethnic origin, religion, and even your species.  It’s a wonderfully frightful feeling.  You’re free-falling with nothing to grasp but the expanding boundaries of your own consciousness. Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 7.40.23 AM

When we think about space travel and the more recent proposed human mission to Mars, Mars One, we can’t help but wonder what exactly this would mean, not just for the crew and its astronauts, but for humanity as a whole.  Space travel and interplanetary and intergalactic resettlement has been the hot subject of science fiction for the last century, tweaking our imaginations and challenging our preconceptions about life, reality and evolution.  Although many of us tend to think of space travel and colonization, as being reserved solely for bookshelves and the robust mind of the avid science fiction enthusiast, proposed human missions to Mars are not a new concept among the scientific community.  In the early 1960s, Project EMPIRE, under NASA, directed studies aimed at creating detailed analyses of what it would take to accomplish a human voyage to Mars, and the Soviet Union’s Heavy Interplanetary Spacecraft, was part and parcel of a space exploration proposal to send a manned flight to Mars and Venus.  In the 1990s NASA continued to develop several conceptual human Mars exploration architectures, which progressed in the 21st century.  Today, however, a number of nations and organizations have outlined real, long-term intentions to send humans to Mars, the most current, and renowned, being the Mars One mission.  Having gained considerable global media attention and public notoriety through sponsorship, high profile donations, merchandise, crowd funding and a proposal to launch a global reality TV media event, Mars One has dominated the news headlines since its inception in 2011.  You may be asking yourself – who on earth would ever want to leave their home, their friends and family to gambit the rest of their life on a cold, hostile planet?  Surprisingly, (or maybe not so surprisingly) when the online application process opened in April 2013 for those people wishing to be apart of the Mars One crew, the nonprofit was inundated with a flood of hopes and dreams that detailed leaving earth for a new life on Mars.  The carefully selected “Mars 100” chosen from a total pool of 660 from around the world, comprise of 50 men and 50 women, some, middle aged and married with children, others, young and ambitious in the blossoming stages of their chosen career.  All hold varying beliefs and motives for seeking an extra-terrestrial experience.  Who are these people and what could they possible want to gain from leaving their home planet forever?  Many have compared the Mars One mission to ancient cultures like the Vikings, who left everything behind in their homeland of Scandinavia to spend the rest of their lives in foreign settlements across Old World Europe.  France may have felt just as formidable and alien to the Vikings as Mars would would be for us.  And so, perhaps, rather than been appalled by this conclusion, we take stock of its truth.  Human nature is driven by the ambition of inquisition and discovery.  It is why our species has been so successful and it is what helps propel consciousness into new heights.  Mars One is simply an extension of that: our ability to be counterintuitive and seek reason outside the comforts of our box, observing with the eyes and ears of a universe that is constantly affecting and changing.  Within this context, human beings have been able to understand more than we ever thought possible, reaching beyond the outer limits of our senses and reason.   In this respect, Mars One is a manifestation of our own character arch, with those appealing to its cause, echoing the sentiments of the hundreds of thousands who came before them.  The Vikings, the Romans, the Greeks, the Mongols, leaders and lost empires of our history.

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Should Mars One come to fruition, and no doubt, (whether within the proposed 15 year timeline or not), at some point, it will, reality of life on Mars will be drastically different than the ideal.  For most people, living the rest of their lives in inflatable bubbles and Mars Suits seems like a far cry from the kind of leisurely retirement of golf, outdoor gardening, beaches and travel many of us aspire to.  However, if you’re of the scientific sort, one who seeks inquiry and analysis, Mars One may just be up your alley.  Astronauts are intended to spend much of their time engaged in research, investigating how their bodies respond and change within a 38% gravitational field, how food crops and other plants develop in hydroponic plant product units and will be required to engage in extra-settlement exploration, to learn about the ancient and current martian geology.   Since the foundations of the mission plan were laid in 2011, the “Mars 100” crew have been selected and are now set to start their training this year.  If we go by the timeline given to us by the Mars One project, by 2020 the Rover Mission will have landed on the red planet, establishing the necessary outposts to sustain life.  By 2022 cargo missions will be launched, and a year later the outpost would become operational.  2024, the first wave of crew members are set to depart earth, landing a year later, with the second crew departing in 2026.  There are, of course, many variables to consider, including the cost of sending people to Mars, health threats from exposure to high-energy cosmic rays and other ionizing radiation, the negative effects of a prolonged low-gravity environment on human health, psychological effects and equipment failure of propulsion or life-support systems, to name just a few.  Not to mention the years of training involved and the eight month arduous journey the flight would take from earth, requiring its crew to give up their daily showers, live off freeze dried or canned food, put up with the constant noise of ventilators, computer and life support systems and adhering to a regimented three hour daily exercise routine.  However, great things never happen on the back-end of skepticism, and so we must put it all into some kind of perspective.  Of course there will always be the naysayers, the critics, the ones who have dogged history with their own scripture of cannot’s.  But critics do not history make.  Instead, we have seen success in the face of incredible odds at the vanguard of dreams and idealism.  Taking a page, or in this case, many pages from antiquity, we see that nothing is truly impossible, and that the human spirit, strong in its faith in seeing the unseeable, defies preconception.   So one day, perhaps not too far away, when we are looking out at the martian landscape through the eyes of those who chose to leave their lives on earth for something unknown, we can take that leap of faith into the unseeable, and refocus our vision, not only for ourselves today, but our world tomorrow.

When Broadcast News Journalism Lies: The System That Created The Myth Of Brian Williams

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.00.14 AMDistrust in the news media is not simply an extrinsic phenomenon.  Recent shock and awe over false claims of deposed MSNBC news anchor, Brian Williams, is a powerful reflection of a much greater, systemic issue.  Misplaced trust in corporate news journalism and our inherent need to openly credit any powerful institution, (mistaking power for legitimacy) proves symptomatic of a deeper social discord.  The cultural degradation we’ve been experiencing over the last several decades comes with the rising tide of an Information Revolution.  Economic, social and technological trends have propelled globalization into new, freak-show heights.  The internet, microtechnology, mobile technology and reality TV, have altogether successfully blurred the lines between authenticity and delusion, sucking news media and journalism into its black hole.  Personal opinion has made pundits of us all, dominating the news in a need for aggrandizement and melodrama.  Even Hollywood, has poked fun at the political underbelly of this social discord, treating Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir crime thriller, Nightcrawler, as a sort of, inflated exposé behind the dismal reality of news broadcasting.  Dogged by the relentless self-interest of oligarchical media giants, who control 90% of what we read, watch and listen to,  (GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS) profit over news serves as sensationalism in an all-out ratings war.  Feeding an addiction to drama by a public jacked up on sports and pop culture, news media distracts from the real, effecting issues of our time, disengaging an otherwise uninformed and ignorant public.  While religion controlled the populous through doctrine, language and institution in antiquity, news media labours to controls the majority through distraction and sensationalism in the 21st century. Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.00.48 AM   

No longer a safe house for receiving instructional, illuminating information about local and global current affairs, news broadcasting has become a petrie dish of the latest silver screen gossip, crime, and the kind of personal anecdotes one would associate with Reader’s Digest.  Instead of galvanizing the public with facts, news broadcasting has turned everything into a hyperbolic human interest story, falling victim to our current cultural shift from realism to surrealism.  Where do point the finger in this cat and mouse game?  Is it Brian Williams’ fault?  MSNBC?  Microsoft?  Time Warner?  Mark Zuckerberg?  Or is it us?  In this funnel of supply and demand, we are all siphoned into caricatures of our selves; our lives simulated by social media platforms, endless data streaming and the constant uploading of information.  Within this divide between dream and reality, there arrives a frightening conclusion: We are no longer able to reconnect.  Politics, current global affairs, education, the environment, food, friendships, relationships, ourselves – the world of senses and intellect is fast becoming lost upon the breakwater of our cheap information addiction.  We don’t care how we get it, or what we’re getting, so long as it stimulates our central nervous system into a feel-good frenzy.  Animated gifs of hamsters playing on pianos, blogs about the latest smoothie diets, viral Youtube videos of men dancing in women’s underwear- this is what we want.  After all, what could be more of a downer than hearing about the details of federal election platforms, the global warming crisis, foreign policy, and the war in the middle east?  News networks have their work cut out for them.

In order for this preposterousness to persist, there must continue to be vacuous space for it, space created in an absence of something better, something more real, honest and transparent.  Reality TV is tantamount to this phenomenon – give us something fake that we can try and be real about, while we continue to create a reality that is nothing but a series of make-believes.  And we’re not alone in creating this vacuum of reality.  Behind the curtain rests the foundation of our society: media, market economy, government politics, multinational corporations, the top 1%, disparity between rich and poor, education, health… If we start to unravel the mechanics and contingencies of our system, a trending towards corruption and immorality becomes evidently clear.  What is not so clear is where it begins and ends.  Vastly interconnected, we are all linked to one another in a contingent process that places blame on everyone’s shoulders.  Perhaps we can simply say that duplicity, greed and self-interest are fundamental to humanity itself.  After all, society has always embraced sensationalism as a sort of social necessity.  Take the Roman gladiatorial games for example.  For centuries, human beings have been consumed with a need for the outrageous in an effort to excite our most basic instincts.  Of course it doesn’t stop there.  Sensationalism can be found in almost everything we do – from dancing, to art and sculpture, to music, literature and language and food.  In this respect, drama, in its myriad of forms, is essential to the well-being of society.  Through it, we can make manifest our deepest darkest secrets without necessarily causing harm to ourselves and others; we can fantasize and exercise our creative brain, we can express emotions we would otherwise be too humiliated or embarrassed to express.  It may be argued that drama itself, encourages analytical thought in a self-deprecating, critical and reflective manner.  Whether fantasy or fiction, drama holds a real and honest place in our society.  But the question remains – when is it too much?  When do we get the point where we say, “Ok.  Enough is enough” ?Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.01.02 AM

While there doesn’t seem to be any real accountability for the wrongdoings and shortcomings within our system, a system in which we place a great deal of trust, (trust in our well-being, in our children’s education, healthcare, our jobs and pensions, our banks and houses), we have to ask ourselves, what we can do to stop this cyclic abuse of our cultural times?  Without trust, there would essentially be no system at all; without the system, we would find ourselves dissolved into a kind of anarchistic dystopia.  The system itself is important.  We, an integral part of that system are important.  Until we realize the value of our own self-worth and wake up to the wondrous and majestic reality around us that continues to thrive
outside the bubble of technology and pop culture, we cannot realistically take back control of the flow of information coming from the top down.  While we must trust in the function of drama and sensationalism and its place in society, we must also trust that it does not reserve a place in our source of informative education: journalism, broadcasting and news media.  Until we start caring about those national and global events and issues that intrinsically effect us all, the news and it’s mouthpiece, Brian Williams, will continue time and time again, to fail us.  As consumers we have a choice about what we want to watch, what we want to listen to and what we appeal from our system.  The laws of supply and demand dictate that the real power is with the people.  All we have to do is stand up, recognize and use that power.