Horseback Riding in the Canadian Rockies (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

Guest blogger Stuart Watkins is a semi-retired businessman, a former cowboy, a life member and Director of the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies (T.R.C.R.). He has attended over 40 rides and is a former resident of world famous Banff National Park.

One of the great outdoor thrills that Canada still offers is a trip by horseback into the majestic Canadian Rockies. Indeed, few things say ''Western Canada'' more than heading out on horseback into these breathtaking and stunning mountains. You can get away from cities, factories, cars, highways, cell phones, the internet, television and people. You trade all that for mountain peaks and green valleys, crystal clear streams and forest trails, outdoor home cooking and the companionship of a few like souls. Mostly, you don't even have to be able to ride to do it, though you have to like horses and be willing to learn....read more»

Hotel Safe (Photo: iStockPhoto.com/Jaap Hart)

The airlines and hotels have covered a lot of ground in expanding the awards options available to members of their loyalty programs. Today, members of larger programs may convert their miles to other currencies and redeem them for all manner of travel services, merchandise, gift cards, and so on.

But the best value for program members remains the program operators' own products. Because of the underlying economics of the programs, it will always be cheaper for an airline to give away its own unsold seats than to give away, say, a rental-car day or an Apple iPod....read more»

Vacation Rental on the Beach (Photo: iStockPhoto/Joseph Brewster)

Short-term rentals—an apartment listed on Airbnb or summer home on FlipKey—violate local housing laws in some destinations. Hosts have been hit with significant fines, not to mention backlash from unhappy neighbors. But a newly formed coalition called the Short Term Rental Advocacy Center is coming to the rescue.

HomeAway and Airbnb, along with SmarterTravel sister sites TripAdvisor and FlipKey, have formed the Short Term Rental Advocacy Center to help change local housing regulations in favor of the rental space. According to the center's spokesman, Tim Doyle, "As short-term rentals grow in popularity, some communities are asking questions about how to regulate the industry. As leaders in the short-term rental marketplace, we want to make sure all stakeholders, but most importantly our customers, have a reliable source of information to contribute to this important discussion." The group maintains that people have a "right" to rent out their properties, and promises to work with policymakers to shape legislation in favor of short-term renters. ...read more»

GoSwype (Photo: GoSwype)

What Is it: The GoSwype, a small microfiber cloth designed to clean and sanitize touchscreens.

Price and Where to Buy: $1.99 at GoSwype.com....read more»

Woman: Sick and with Tissue (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

I consider myself a nonrefundable ticket sort of person. There are very few circumstances in which I'm willing to shell out significantly more to book a more flexible ticket. The cost is simply too high. I'd rather cross my fingers and hope no complicating factors arise. And usually, that works.

But recently, it didn't. I got very ill a few days before a trip, and as the illness progressed, it became clear that there was no way I was going to make the trip. I could barely stand, let alone traipse halfway across the globe. I needed to cancel, but I wanted to avoid a stiff penalty if at all possible.

Enter the doctor's note. The cost to cancel my ticket would be $100, but the airline (Virgin America, though some other airlines—but not all—have a similar policy) would waive the fee if I could provide a doctor's note....read more»

Woman Waiting, Holding Head in Hands at Airport (Photo: Patryk Kosmider/Shutterstock)

For close to 15 years, I've been preaching a simple strategy for getting maximum value from travel loyalty programs: Redeem earned points sooner rather than later.

That's for a simple reason. A mile or point redeemed today is almost certainly going to have more value than a mile or point redeemed next week or next month or next year.

That's because the long-term trend among travel rewards programs has been toward ever-escalating award prices. And as award prices rise, the value of miles and points declines.

Conversely, hoarding miles—as many do, with the vague idea in mind of using their miles in retirement for "dream trips"—is a sucker's game. It's akin to holding a stock that's declined in price since you bought it, and is expected to continue losing value indefinitely. The smart move, for both mile-collectors and investors, is to cut the losses and cash out now.

So, what's changed today? Absolutely nothing....read more»

Air: Airplane Over Horizon (Photo: Shutterstock/Mo:Ses)

In recent years, travel writers have pretty much laid off of reporting two "insider" strategies for cutting airfare costs, mainly because those strategies had lost much of their usefulness. And, of course, they also violate airline rules. (See our Ultimate Guide to Airline Contracts of Carriage for more information on each airline's prohibited ticket uses.) But despite the competitive influence of Southwest and the other low-fare airlines, they can still sometimes be useful.

These days, "tricky ticket" strategies are mostly limited to trips when you need a one-way ticket to or from some big airline's fortress hub. On routes where competition is lacking or weak, the legacy lines like to stick it to business travelers by charging very high one-way prices for nonstop flights. You have three ways to avoid the gouge—one that's OK with the airlines, and two that aren't. ...read more»

Train in a Paris Station (Photo: iStockphoto/Perry Kroll)

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em": SNCF, the French railway system, has decided to fight low-fare airlines with low-fare trains. Starting April 2, new budget-priced Ouigo high-speed trains will make three round trips a day—four on Saturdays—on the high-speed trunk line between Paris and the Mediterranean coast, splitting near Avignon, with one section to Marseille and the other to Montpellier. Both the pricing and the operation will parallel the ways low-fare airlines operate. ...read more»

Cruise - Woman relaxing in a pink tube on a cruise vacation (Photo: Christian Wheatley)

Enter the Choice Hotels 500,000 Points sweepstakes by March 31 for a chance to win the grand prize: 500,000 Choice Privileges points, plus a voucher for $2,000 good toward the purchase of a Royal Caribbean cruise. Runner-up prizes include 50 lots of 50,000 Choice points each.

To enter, provide your name, email address, and zip, then press "submit." Time required to enter: under 15 seconds.

Note: By entering, you are signing up to receive weekly Deal E-mails from CruisesOnly. You can opt out at any time....read more»

Airport: Man - Sitting, Waiting (Photo: Thinkstock/Creatas)

Today, outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned that impending government budget cuts could mess up U.S. air travel in a major way.

The across-the-board cuts that are set to kick in next week will carve $600 million from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said LaHood. As a result, delays and cancellations caused by federal-employee shortages could be in the cards....read more»

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