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Spring Break 2013

What to see, do at Busch Gardens in Tampa

How to save money on phone data abroad

It's easy to rack up huge data charges when you take your mobile phone overseas. The good news? It's just as easy to keep costs down.

You probably know someone who has returned from overseas with a horror story about a crazy-big—and utterly unexpected—mobile phone or tablet bill. In some cases people have been socked with five-figure tabs for using currency conversion apps, digital postcards, and even humdrum data like texts and emails. And that unlimited data plan you've got in the U.S. won't work once you cross international borders. But we've got some easy, affordable ways to be super-smart about using that smartphone.

Turn off data roaming

Limit your data downloads by opting for Wi-Fi only. By turning off roaming or selecting airplane mode, you'll have to go to a Wi-Fi hotspot to access the Web.

Turn off apps and automatic updates

This can be a big one, since that slim little phone in your pocket may be sucking down data even when you're not using it. Turn off automatic email updates (that way you'll be able to check email yourself using Wi-Fi when you're at a hotspot), voicemail (to avoid getting hit with charges for incoming phone calls even when you don't answer them!), and apps (which can continue updating and devouring data 24/7).

Rent a mobile hotspot

Instead of wasting time looking for a wired Burger King in, say, Gdansk, rent a mobile bubble. Weekly rates vary—Tep Wireless in the U.K. will charge less than $40 plus a daily $2 for unlimited wireless; Rentaphone Japan charges about $75 per week, including unlimited use and delivery to your hotel.

Get an international plan through your U.S. carrier

Whether you're combining business with pleasure or are simply hooked on your phone, there are some scenarios where you just know you're going to need your email, texting, and apps. In those cases it's a good idea to ask your U.S. carrier about their international plan that will resemble a domestic data plan. But just as you would at home, be sure you understand the limits of your data downloading, phone minutes, and any changes in the plan for business hours, evenings, and weekends.

Track your phone's data usage

Set your phone's data tracker to zero at the beginning of your trip so you can keep track of how much data you are using. Especially if you sign up for an international data plan and you're concerned about staying within a set limit (say, 50MB per month), the tracker will quickly become your wallet's BFF as you see those MBs slowly rise.

Buy a SIM card

Your U.S. mobile phone is likely "locked," meaning it will work only with the service you signed up for. But it's possible to ask your company to unlock your phone (usually by selling you a code). Once the phone is unlocked you can install a SIM card for the country you are planning to visit, including prepaid minutes. It's also possible to purchase or rent an unlocked phone, and there are SIM cards that can roam from country to country without an interruption in service.

Buy a disposable phone

No, it's not going to be especially smart or social, and it won't understand a word you say to it, but if you just want to be able to make calls without sweating the rates, sink about $75 or less into a local disposable mobile phone with a set number of prepaid minutes.

Bonus tip: Extend your phone's battery life!

While using Wi-Fi instead of 3G and 4G will help conserve battery power, it's still a challenge to keep your phone charged on the go. It's not a new idea, but we'd be remiss if we didn't remind you to turn down the brightness of your phone or tablet's screen—it is the single biggest consumer of battery power.

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8 trips you must do once

Looking for something besides yet another trip to the beach for your next vacation? From cooking lessons in the hills of Tuscany to snorkeling the waters off Belize, these eight trips should be on everyone's list.

The phrase "adventure travel" has a bit of an image problem. For many, it conjures only images of summiting mountains, diving into underwater caverns, and, well, aching muscles. But when we asked ourselves what kinds of adventures belong on everyone's travel list, we cast a much wider net. Yes, we can get you underwater—snorkeling among corals off Belize, anyone? But we also think it's mighty adventurous to sign up for cooking lessons in the land that practically invented eating—Tuscany. Or mastering the dance in a Buenos Aires tango hall. Of course, if you insist on some good old-fashioned adrenaline pumping, we'll direct you to some expert hang gliding instructors in Los Angeles. All eight of our can't-miss adventures have one thing in common—you'll arrive back home with a heckuva story to tell.

Snorkeling in Belize

 

With knockout beaches on Ambergris Caye, Caye Kaulker, and Placenia, plus inland jungles, 600 species of birds (think toucans and motmots), and Mayan ruins, Belize is paradise for landlubbers. But nothing beats exploring the blue sea and getting up-close-and-personal with the underwater residents on a snorkeling adventure. A visit to the five-square-mile Hol Chan Marine Reserve with a good outfitter will include all snorkeling gear and the chance to hobnob with colorful coral, angelfish, grunts, snappers, rays, nurse sharks (it's okay, they're harmless!), and maybe even a manatee from June to September.

Get started: Raggamuffin Tours offers day trips to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and other packages, including overnights on a sailboat.

River Cruise in Europe

 

River cruises are routinely touted as the "next big thing." And there's a reason for that. While Europe's long, winding, history-drenched rivers aren't exactly a secret, it's true that cruise lines are adding more river cruises each year. And cruising in a small, intimate ship on an iconic European river like the Danube, the Seine, or the Rhine means you're making frequent stops at charming little towns and even big cities like Paris, whose Port de Grenelle dock is walking distance from the Eiffel Tower. Add gourmet meals, local wines, and guided tours and you've got a dream trip in the making. The season runs from March to September, with a high season (read: more expensive) in May, June, and July.

Get started: Viking River Cruises offers sails on the Rhine, the Seine, the Danube, and the Rhône, as well as the Volga.

Safari in Kenya

 

Think a close encounter with lions, elephants, zebra, rhinos, and hippos is out of your reach? Think again. Sure, they don't come cheap, but it's possible to have a full safari experience (including airfare, lodging, meals, and game-viewing drives) for under $2,500. A quality tour will give you time to spot animals in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Lake Naivasha, and Kigio Wildlife Camp, and guarantee window seats on drives through preserves with an experienced English-speaking guide.

Get started: Gate 1 Travel offers a number of package tours to Kenya from major U.S. airports.

Hang Gliding in Los Angeles

 

We know, at first glance it's likely that you're not too keen on jumping off a cliff and letting a sail on an aluminum frame help you waft safely back to earth. But we're here to tell you it's a lot easier—and infinitely more fun—than you might think. In fact, of all the photo-worthy stunts attempt on vacation, hang gliding with the help of a qualified tandem partner is completely safe. While you may have heard that gliding over Rio is the ultimate glide (and it is), there are opportunities to fly right here in the U.S. Los Angeles, with its mid-size mountain ranges and stretches of beach, makes a terrific backdrop for a float. Learn to hang glide on the sand, and when you're ready to take the plunge, sign up for a tandem ride, in which you share the glider with a licensed pilot.

Get started: Windsports offers beginners' training on the beach, tandem glides from mountains, and, if you're really bitten by the hang gliding bug, pilot training.

Cooking Classes in Tuscany

 

Anyone who has tucked into a plate of fresh pasta or seafood—or, for that matter, just about any dish—in Tuscany knows that ohmygosh moment when you wonder, how on earth do they do this? It's time to take the leap: Sign up for a cooking class with an expert in Tuscan cuisine. It may not sound quite as adventurous as hang gliding or snorkeling, but consider this: You're pushing the envelope of your abilities and that plate of hand-made pasta you put in front of your guests at the next dinner party may impress them more than any adventure travel story ever could. There are a number of opportunities to immerse yourself in Italian cuisine both in Florence and in outlying areas, where you find yourself learning to craft bruschetta, gnocchi, and even tiramisu while surrounded by olive trees, vineyards, and rolling farmland.

Get started: Toscana Mia offers hands-on culinary training in a relaxed, friendly environment in either Florence or the Chianti countryside.

Tango Lessons in Buenos Aires

 

Argentina's cultural life may be defined by dance more than that of any other country. Visit a tango salon, or milonga, and you'll see extraordinary demonstrations of this seductive, mysterious dance, whose rapid turns and inherent drama were inspired by Argentine gangsters. But aside from the flamboyant styles of tango on display, there is also the opportunity for you, as a visitor, to learn a more subdued—and manageable—version of the dance. C'mon, we know you've thought about it: Arrive at a milonga early in the evening and you can usually participate in an affordable group lesson. (Experienced dancers won't show up till midnight.) If you're up for it, dress the part: That means dress shoes, suits, and dresses. Ready for even more adventure? Once you've mastered the basic moves, dance with a stranger.

Get started: Academia Nacional de Tango (11/4345-6968) offers evening lessons.

Volunteer Vacation

 

Most experienced travelers are eager to find ways to make their world a better place, and there's no better way to indulge your Peace Corps fantasies—without the long-term commitment—than by signing up for a volunteer vacation. Book a trip with an experienced tour operator and make a difference by working with underprivileged children, teaching, or participating in a construction project. Examples of ongoing volunteer vacation opportunities include teaching arts and crafts to children in orphanages in India and assisting with food and water safety and building or renovating infrastructure on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

Get started: GVI is a tour operator specializing in volunteer opportunities. It offers packages that can include working with children, construction projects, and wildlife conservation.

Genealogy Travel

 

There's never been a better time in human history to find a route to your roots. Heritage travel is big business, with Ireland leading the way with more than 120,000 overseas visitors per year. (One in nine Americans, including President Obama, have some Irish heritage.) Aer Lingus offers a "Discover Your Roots" tour that includes a night in Dublin, an hour-long consultation with an Irish genealogy specialist, and vouchers for car rentals to get you to your hometown. Similarly, African Americans have explored West Africa with the help of Palace Travel's Discover Senegal package; Chinese Americans have booked customized trips through Explore China Tours, and Italian Americans turn to the Pallante Center for Italian Research for genealogical research. Sure, results vary, but for some people a walk back into their family history is the greatest adventure they could take.

Get started: Read "Find Your Roots in Ireland" for a BT writer's narrative of tracing her family's history on the Emerald Isle, plus tips for exploring other ethnic backgrounds.

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12 true stories of romantic trips gone awry

Is there anything better than getting away from it all with your better half? Usually the answer is no, there's nothing better. But sometimes things don't go according to plan. From unwanted guests (be it wildlife or in-laws) to quarantines to hurricanes, these 12 true stories from Budget Travel readers will amaze—and amuse—you.

 

This Valentine's Day is a lock

On our final day in Cancún, I headed to the beach to read while my wife went to the room. After an hour, I called the room, but there was no answer. I figured she got sidetracked. When another hour passed with no sign of her, I called again—still no answer. As soon as I walked into the room, I heard pounding on the bathroom door and saw a washcloth on the floor with "help" scrawled on it in mascara. "Get me out of here!" my wife was yelling. "I'm locked in!" She'd been trapped in the bathroom for two and a half hours. What a way to spend Valentine's Day! —Gene Jackson, Longmont, CO

 

Getting mighty crowded

When my husband and I were engaged, his parents said they would give us a honeymoon to remember. We instantly had visions of Hawaii or Mexico. Not quite. They told us we were heading to Disney World in Florida, then added that they'd always wanted to go themselves and were coming along. "That's great!" I told them—what else could I say? In the end, my mother-in-law invited two friends, the friends' three kids, and my sister-in-law and her husband. I can't say a lot of honeymooning went on, but my in-laws did give us a trip we'll never forget. —Cristina Beitz, El Cajon, CA

 

Don't try this at home

My partner and I stayed at Arenas del Mar in Costa Rica, which is ranked as one of the most "green" hotels in the country. We were in the top floor apartment, with a balcony overlooking the Pacific that had a huge hot tub, providing the perfect sunset view. While my partner was out exploring the resort, I decided to surprise him with some wine and a soak. I turned on the faucets, adjusted the temperature, and started the jets. As an afterthought, I added some scented ecofriendly body wash from the bathroom and went in to get the wine. Within five minutes, there was a knock at the door-it was the manager, and he wanted to look at my balcony. We walked out to discover a waterfall of bubbles cascading over the tub and onto our neighbors' balcony below! Even worse, the bubbles were rolling off their patio and down the cliff, covering trees and plants that had been full of birds, lizards, and monkeys. The manager directed my attention to a placard stating that no additives should be put in the hot tub. For days afterward, we would hear our downstairs neighbors commenting (loudly) about how unusual it was that they never saw any more iguanas or monkeys around their patio. At least the bubbles were biodegradable! —Bryan Craft, Naples, FL

 

A pinch will do

One gorgeous evening on Kauai, my longtime boyfriend and I were lying on the beach gazing at the stars. It was such a romantic setting that I started expecting him to propose. Instead he yelled, "Stop pinching me with your big toe. You know I hate it when you do that." I said that I hadn't touched him, and I was upset that the mood was ruined. Then he sat up and yelled, "Something just moved!" I didn't see a thing, but he said, "There are crabs all around us." To my horror, it suddenly looked like the sand was moving. We ran screaming like little children—and got engaged two months later in Chicago. —Lori Wheeler, Columbia, MO

 

Love's old sweet song

On our first night in Venice, my husband suggested we take a gondola ride as the sun set. I'm the planner in the family, but it turned out my husband had been doing some planning of his own. He reproposed and gave me a beautiful new diamond ring! It was one of the most romantic moments of my life. We were kissing in a quiet side canal, water lapping gently against the boat, when we heard: "I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world, life in plastic, it's fantastic." Instead of killing the moment, our gondolier's cell phone ring tone made it even more memorable! —Lori Hlucky, Brunswick, OH

 

Do you wanna touch?

While in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, my husband, Scott, and I arranged a day trip to Tabacón Hot Springs. After a quick hike, we hurried back for our mineral mud bath. The other guests were already coated in mud and baking in the sun. When we entered the adobe hut for our turn, two Costa Rican men motioned Scott to leave while they studiously painted me from head to toe. Leaving no skin uncovered, they followed very close around my bikini. When I emerged, the other people in our group asked how I got my mud on so perfectly--theirs was streaky and uneven. I said that was how the two Costa Rican men applied it. "What Costa Rican men?" they said. "We were all told to put it on ourselves!" Scott and I never did see those two men again. —Pam Anderson, Sussex, WI

 

Freudian slip

As we strolled around Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, a girl laughed when my boyfriend asked her to take our picture. I had no idea what was going on! Mike's first language is French, but it was a little rusty. He explained later, he had told her he was going to propose marriage to "ma petite fille" (my little daughter). Even through her laughter, she captured the moment for us. I said yes, and he still calls me his "petite fille." —Cassie Gokey, Atlanta, GA

 

Strangers with smokes

My husband and I were in Italy enjoying a romantic dinner in a lovely little restaurant. Since I'd recently quit smoking, I was savoring every morsel. But when I finished my meal and saw a gentleman across the room light a cigarette, I just couldn't help but look at it longingly. I had always loved a cigarette after a good meal. Before we left, I went to the ladies' room. When I came out, a waiter handed me a piece of paper indicating that it was from the man with the cigarette. To my great surprise and embarrassment, the note read "call me" and included the name and telephone number of his hotel, along with his room number. Needless to say my husband and I left in a hurry, and he had yet another reason to add to his list of why I should not smoke. —Linda King, Rensselaer, NY

 

Worst honeymoon ever

My husband and I went to Santorini, Greece, for our honeymoon. The day after we arrived, Rocco had a fever, a cough, a cold, and body aches. After 24 hours, we went to a doctor, who sent us to a medical center for tests. There, we were stuck in an unfinished room with a twin bed and told we'd be quarantined until the results were in. After 36 hours, they arrived—Rocco had the H1N1 virus, and we were told we had to stay in the room for five to seven more days. Our hotel brought us our luggage, plus sheets, a cot, towels, a cell phone, and food. We missed flights to Crete and Athens (and prepaid hotels in both places) and had to buy new tickets home. I'd say we had the worst honeymoon ever! —Anna Maria Calo, Glen Cove, NY

 

Love, Italian-style

My husband and I went to Caiazzo, Italy, to see my relatives. They don't speak English and my husband doesn't speak Italian, so I was the translator. On our first night at my cousin's house, she handed me two towels and a small box labeled INTIMO. My husband assumed it was for "intimate" purposes for the two of us and tried to rush me off to the bedroom, yelling, "Grazie! Grazie!" That's when I realized he was excited about a box of soap for the bidet. As I explained things to my relatives, they laughed hard, and for days the men in the family kept nudging my husband and giving him the thumbs-up. —Lorena Aguilar, Woodbridge, VA

 

A thing of beauty is a joy forever

While dining at Bobby Chinn's Restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam, my wife ordered—unbeknownst to me—a side dish called, "We tell you that you are beautiful all night long." (It was listed on the menu as a side dish, right above the green salad, for $2.) When the waiter brought our food, he paused, looked me in the eye, and, much to my surprise, told me that I was beautiful. This continued for the entire meal. Between the waiter, busboy, and bartender I was told no less than 10 times that I was beautiful. The food and service were hands down the best we had in Vietnam. My only complaint: I wish that we'd had a waitress! —Jason Mullin, Chicago

 

Stormy romance

We spent our last dime on our dream honeymoon in Cozumel, Mexico. For two days, we toured the town and were looking forward to a visit to Tulum and scuba dives at some of the world's best reefs. Instead, we got Wilma, a 52-hour hurricane with winds up to 155 mph and waves that shook our hotel. We had planned on staying in the room, but not under those circumstances. —Nicole and Matt Jacobson, Montrose, MN

 

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