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After spending the springs and summers of the last several decades in Europe, it seems to me that, more and more, the culture is celebrated outdoors. Cities and towns everywhere are competing to attract tourists; there is more than enough music, drink, theater, and fun to keep these concerts and festivals going and growing. Make a point in your travels to enjoy the scene outdoors—by day and by night. Here are a few random examples of how to put this cultural sparkle into your next trip.

I don't build my travel itineraries around festivals, but I'm constantly happening upon fun events. When I check into a hotel, I always ask, "What's happening tonight?" This spring I was in Florence the night before May Day during a huge blowout called "Notte Bianca" (White Night). All the museums had free admission and were open late, restaurants were hopping, music and dancing filled the streets, and everyone was outside. Over the years I've learned that when you hit an unexpected festival, rather than stay in your hotel room and complain about the noise, the best response is to get out in the streets and make them even noisier.

Related: 10 Tourist-Free Adventure Destinations

It's easy to join in the hubbub in Barcelona, where neighborhood festivals jam the calendar. People congregate on the central "Times Square" of the city, Plaça de Catalunya, to watch soccer matches on the big screen, to demonstrate, to celebrate, and to enjoy outdoor concerts and festivals. When you visit, make it a point to watch or participate in the patriotic sardana dance, held in front of the cathedral on Sundays at noon (except in August). Gathering in circles and holding hands, dancers raise their arms—slow-motion, "Zorba the Greek"-style—as they hop and sway gracefully to the music. The band consists of a long flute, tenor and soprano oboes, strange-looking brass instruments, and a tiny bongo-like drum called a tambori. For some, the sardana is a highly symbolic, politically charged action representing Catalan unity—but for most it's just a fun chance to kick up their heels.

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Working on my TV shows and guidebooks in Europe, I try to get the straight story on history, but it can be tricky. I keep remembering Napoleon's quote: "What is history but a myth agreed upon?" The 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo prompted me to ponder the opportunities Paris offers to anyone who'd like to brush up on their Napoleonic facts.

Napoleon's life is as fascinating as his place in history. Just a humble kid from Corsica, he went to military school in Paris. He rose quickly through the ranks during the tumultuous years of the French Revolution. By 1799 he was the ruler of France. After that, within five years, France had conquered most of Europe, and Napoleon declared himself emperor of it all.

As the head of France's grand million-man army, he blitzed Europe. His personal charisma on the battlefield was said to be worth 10,000 additional men. But it all came to an end on farmland 15 miles south of Brussels. Two centuries later, the Belgians spiffed up the Waterloo battlefield for the bicentennial, but to get a better feel for Napoleon, head to Paris.

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When you've traveled in Europe as long as I have, you experience changes, big and small. And more and more, I've been noticing that traditional local businesses are being pushed out by the playground economy that comes with modern affluence.

It's one thing to see hotels, restaurants, and shops come and go in the normal course of business. But I've also seen the slow churning of local traditions and lifestyles as unique family-run enterprises have given way to a rising tide of cookie-cutter chains and synthetic conformity.

In historic city centers, as rents go up, longtime residents, families, and craftspeople are pushed out. In Istanbul, the city wants to move the gold and silver workshops from the Grand Bazaar to a place outside the city. Recently, the Florentine government ended rent control, and prices immediately spiked, driving artisans and shops catering to locals out of business—to be replaced by boutiques and trendy places to eat and drink. ... read more»

What is it: Gogo Kidz Travelmate

Price and Where to Buy: $70 on Amazon.com; $89 on Gogobabyz.com  

Fact: Car seats are one of the bulkiest, heaviest, most uncomfortable things to carry through an airport. On a recent family trip, we traveled with a car seat for my one-year-old. To more easily move the seat through the airport and onto the flight, we tried the GoGo Babyz Travelmate, a small platform-strap-telescoping-handle combo that turns a car seat into a stroller.

Pros: To carry a car seat through an airport requires two hands. But if you're carrying a car seat through an airport, you don't have two hands to spare—you've got a kid to hold onto, and probably a diaper bag and a carry-on full of entertainment options. The Travelmate does double duty because it turns a bulky, heavy, uncomfortable-to-carry car seat into an easy-to-roll chair and works as a stroller. My one-year old loved riding in it, and it felt both sturdy and comfortable to pull. When my kid wasn't catching a ride, we plopped a carry-on or two in the seat and pulled it along behind us. So it was always useful. ... read more»

Planes taking off behind pink sky (Photo: Index Open)

Alaska Airlines today announced the addition of its fifteenth Mileage Plan airline partner.

Beginning on June 23, Mileage Plan members can earn miles for flying on China's Hainan Airlines; mileage redemption for Hainan award flights will begin later in 2015.

Miles earned for Hainan flights qualify toward earning Mileage Plan elite status. And through October 31, Mileage Plan members will earn double miles for Hainan flights.

Hainan flies nonstop to Beijing and Shanghai from Seattle and Boston, and to Beijing from San Jose and Chicago. The airline's route network includes more than 90 destinations worldwide, with extensive coverage within China.

As is customary with such marketing tie-ups, the relationship is reciprocal: Members of Hainan's Fortune Wings Club may also earn miles for Alaska Airlines flights, and will be able to redeem miles for award flights on Alaska some time later this year.

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We've all been there: Stuck at the airport on a long delay or overnight layover, bored out of our minds and tempted to kill time by just shopping our way through Terminal 2. But your airport layover doesn't have to be a shopping-spree budget-buster. And it doesn't have to mean camping out in front of the airport lounge and stealing the free Wi-Fi, either. (Props for trying, though.)

Here are a few cheap ways to entertain yourself at the airport—one each for solo travelers, couples, and families. ... read more»

Managing Editor <a href="http://www.smartertravel.com/community/?user_id=19703be16e533025b7dbb3a3449750f0-cfc016b602" target="_blank">Josh Roberts</a> has been with SmarterTravel since January 2001. A lifelong adventure traveler, Josh's greatest passion is exploring the great outdoors&mdash;especially the moody and magical mountains of the United Kingdom and Western Europe.

<ol><li>Explore Egypt's Valley of the Kings by camel.</li>
<li>Climb Angel's Landing in Zion National Park.</li>
<li>Explore the Lofoten Islands, Norway.</li>
<li>Sea kayaking off the coast of Greenland.</li>
<li>Sailing between the Greek Isles.</li>
<li>Walk the Great Wall of China</li>
<li>Compete in the <em>Amazing Race</em>.</li>
<li>Heli-hike in the Western Canadian wilderness.</li>
<li>Snowshoe hut to hut in the Rocky Mountains along the 10th Mountain Division Hut System (where my grandfather trained for WWII).</li>
<li>Introduce my two kids to U.S. National Parks like Grand Canyon, Glacier, etc.</li></ol>

Have you been to the Valley of the Kings? Any suggestions for Josh?

(Photo: iStockphoto/Matej Michelizza)

A group of twenty travelers were arrested by Chinese authorities last week in Mongolia on suspicion of having links to a terrorist organization.

The wealthy, mostly retired group of tourists, who are British, Indian and South African, were part of a 47-day organized tour of "Ancient China," and were arrested on Friday morning as they boarded a plane in the city of Ordos.

They had been visiting a nearby mausoleum dedicated to Ghengis Khan.

While Mongolia is known for its petty street crime towards tourists there has been little reason in recent years for travelers to avoid the region due to security concerns. Especially when on a guided tour.

The US currently has five citizens being detained abroad with dozens of others held without proper legal justification in the past decade. In many cases, the prisoners were merely tourists in the country where they have been held captive, whether by police or extremist groups.

While some places are unsurprisingly dangerous for tourists to venture, many high-risk countries may surprise you. ... read more»

Road: Sunset at End of Road (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

The US has many iconic road trips. You could even say that the US invented the road trip as a form of vacation.

Which makes sense, considering the country is known to have some of the best scenic driving routes anywhere on Earth. From the Pacific Coast Highway through California, to Route 66 running from Chicago to Santa Monica, these drives have become part of many a bucket list.

This year, AAA revealed that one-in-four Americans embark on a road trip each year. But rather than follow the crowd, there are plenty of incredible routes, both short and long, that are further off the beaten path. ... read more»

Azores Lake (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

Sick of overcrowded streets, congested bus rides and suffocating travel groups? You're not alone. One of the top trends in travel this decade is the quest for the untouched—those pristine, less-traveled destinations you can explore without bumping into selfie-takers at every turn.

Luckily for us, the folks at the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) know a thing or two about traveling off the beaten path. To bring you the tourist-free experience you crave, we asked experts at the recent AdventureElevate conference in Colorado to share some of their favorite secret spots. Read on to get the skinny on these exotic locales before the crowds show up. ... read more»

Passengers waiting to board a plane (Photo: Index Open)

What's next in the airlines' relentless search for yet more sources of fee revenue?

FlightView's just-released survey of more than 2,300 travelers, subtitled "How Airlines and Airports Can Capture More Revenue & Loyalty by Improving the Travel Experience," may provide some clues.

The report begins with an observation about the current state of the airline industry: "Consolidation across the airline industry has left travelers with far fewer choices." Since 1996, the number of airlines operating to and within the U.S. has decreased, from 252 to 173, with the top-10 carriers accounting for 87 percent of the seats offered for sale. Among U.S. carriers, American, Delta, and United now control around 59 percent of U.S. domestic seats, versus just 37 percent 20 years ago.

What does consolidation have to do with travelers' wants and needs? Plenty.

For travelers, this consolidation often means inconvenient departure and arrival times, more connections, higher airfares and lots of compromises. For airports and airlines with inconvenient networks and schedules, it could mean losing business to competitors—as travelers seem more willing than ever to seek alternatives for getting where they need to go, faster and easier.

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