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(Photo: Hotel Towels via Shutterstock)

As tipping goes, tipping hotel housekeepers is as optional as it gets. There are no reliable statistics on how many travelers leave a few bucks on the nightstand before checking out after their hotel stays, but my best guess is that fewer than 5 percent do.

Marriott wants to increase the frequency with which guests tip housekeepers at its hotels in the U.S. and Canada. To that end, the company will place "Gratitude Envelopes" in 160,000 rooms at participating hotels. ... read more»

Machu Picchu, Peru - Women viewing ruins (Photo: iStockPhoto/ Christian Peeters)

Enter the REI "Around the World" sweepstakes by October 3, 2014, for a chance to win one of four grand prizes: 1) a 10-day trip for two to Machu Picchu; 2) a 10-day trip for two to Costa Rica; 3) a 13-day trip for two to Mont Blanc; or 4) a 14-day trip for two to Thailand.

All trips are in conjunction with REI tours, and include air, accommodations, activities, tour guide, and some meals.

To enter, provide the requested contact information on the sweepstakes landing page, choose one of the four prizes, and press "Submit." Done! Time required to participate: less than 30 seconds. ... read more»

(Photo: STM Bags)

What Is it: The STM Drifter Laptop Backpack.

Price and Where to Buy: At the time of publication, the Drifter was on sale in certain colors on Amazon for $106.14.

... read more»

Miles & Points (Photo: Shutterstock)

If it's a good deal (or a notably bad one), you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly. ... read more»

Photo: Southwest Airlines

For most of its 44-year history, Southwest was a domestic-only carrier.

It was only in July that the carrier pushed beyond U.S. borders, with flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.

On September 12, Southwest further expanded the scope of its network with the announcement of service from Baltimore/Washington International airport to San Jose, Costa Rica, beginning on March 7, 2015 (subject to government approval).

Looking north, South has recently signaled its interest in flying to Canada, a more likely prospect given the airline's purchase of longer-range B737-800 jets.

Earlier this year, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly alluded to a list of 50 new destinations under consideration by the airline's planning department, half of which he expected to see launched within three years. How many of those will be outside the country remains to be seen. ... read more»

SlapIt (Photo: Nite Ize)

What Is it: The SlapLit LED Slap Wrap, a slap bracelet type item with an LED illuminating function to keep you visible in the dark.

Price and Where to Buy: At the time of publication, the SlapLit was on sale on Amazon for $10.51. Also available on Nite Ize's website for $11.99.

... read more»

Peak foliage is entirely dependent on the weather. Ideal conditions for seeing beautiful foliage vary from year to year, so there's no way to pinpoint in advance the prime days to see the changing leaves. In many places, though, state tourism boards, local bloggers, and park rangers keep close tabs on local foliage conditions. If you know where to look, you can get up-to-the-minute information on exactly when and where to see the most vivid fall landscapes. ... read more»

Coach seating in 737 (Photo: Bert Van Wijk/iStockphoto)

Whose side is Airbus on? The aircraft manufacturer has come down on both sides of the passenger-comfort debate, dissing the industry-standard coach seats as "crusher seats," and then filing a patent application for what may be the most congested coach-class seating configuration ever conceived.

Are they trying to rescue coach customers, or kill them with claustrophobia? The company's latest patent application, US 8814266 B2, leaves us with more questions than answers.

Innocuously, the application references a "Headrest for a passenger seat for an aircraft." If that conjures images of a traditional headrest, dismiss them. Instead, imagine a space helmet that almost completely covers the flyer's head, with a clear visor in front of the eyes for visibility. Think Rocket Man. ... read more»

If Mother Nature permits, skiers can take advantage of uncrowded resorts and discounted lift tickets in November and December (before Christmas). For example, at <a href="http://vail.snow.com" target="_blank">Vail Resorts</a> in Colorado, a three-day lift ticket costs $171 for skiing in mid-November, but the same pass jumps in price by nearly $100 starting December 23. To link to the official websites of U.S. ski resorts, search the directory on <a href="http://www.goski.com/usa_index.html" target="_blank">GoSki</a>. 

(Photo: Chris McLennan, Vail Resorts)

Yes, it's likely still hot where you live, but it's not too early to start thinking about your winter vacation plans. Presumably, you'll find acceptable snow and facilities in most developed ski centers. So you obviously want to select your destination on the basis of some combination of the total destination experience, the extent of ski and other winter activity options, accessibility, and the cost at options available to you.

If you're looking for the "best," regardless of other factors, TripAdvisor posts its list of the 26 best skiing vacations in the U.S. and Canada. The top seven areas and 19 of the rest are in the West. Here are the rankings: Banff, Alberta; Lake Tahoe, California; Whistler, British Columbia; Park City, Utah; Vail, Colorado; Alyeska, Alaska; Breckenridge, Colorado; Lake Placid, New York; Aspen, Colorado; North Conway, New Hampshire; Durango, Colorado; Stowe, Vermont; Mammoth Lakes, California; Big Bear, California; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Mont Tremblant, Quebec; Taos, New Mexico; Juneau, Alaska; Killington, Vermont; Telluride, Colorado; Teton Village, Wyoming; Big Sky, Montana; Crested Butte, Colorado; Olympic Valley, California; Snowbird, Utah; and Sun Valley, Idaho. ... read more»

(Photo: Topnotch Resort)

Red maple or hemlock?

The trees in the northern Vermont forest look a lot different when you're looking at them from 75 feet above the ground, through branches that anchor zip lines—as long as 1,000 feet—on a zip-line canopy tour.

"Our mission is to educate and inspire and help families connect with nature," says Michael Smith, the managing partner of ArborTrek in Jeffersonville, Vermont, near Stowe, who has built zip-line courses around the world. Let's not forget the chance for a shared adventure: eight zips, two rappels (40 feet) and crossing two bridges 35 feet off the ground. That and the running commentary on the flora and fauna have made this a top-ranked zip line in the country and worth the $99.95 tab, say guests who were back for second and third times. ... read more»

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