Jamie Oliver Invites You To Visit Britain

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is fronting a new tourism campaign encouraging travelers to explore the diverse regions of Britain.

The cook – who is renowned for opening a string of successful restaurants and overhauling unhealthy school lunches in his country – says that between the miles of rugged coastline and vast expanses of countryside, Britain has something to offer everyone.

Not surprisingly, Oliver also waxes lyrical about the cuisine, claiming, “British food is some of the best in the world.”

Check out Jamie Oliver’s invitation below.

[Photo credit: Flick user really short]

NYC Tourism Campaign Spotlights The City’s Lesser-Known Attractions

More than 52 million people visit New York City each year but the vast majority of visitors never stray far from the well-trodden streets of Manhattan. Now, a new tourism initiative is encouraging travelers to take a bigger bite out of the Big Apple by venturing out of the typical tourist hotspots and deep into the city’s five boroughs.

Neighborhood X Neighborhood” will give visitors a list of suggestions on things to do and see ranging from popular tourist activities to hidden gems that only the locals know about. The city’s vast array of restaurants, shops and cultural venues will all be spotlighted in the campaign.

The city’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, says previous efforts to widen the tourist circuit have stimulated development in the neighborhoods. In recent years, more than 70 hotels have sprung up outside Manhattan, catering to visitors who want to get off the beaten path.”We’ve focused on bringing more tourists to neighborhoods outside of Manhattan, and it’s paid off with more hotels being built and tourism-related economic activity happening in those boroughs,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Our neighborhoods are what make New York City unique, and visitors who explore the boroughs beyond the beaten path are sure to be rewarded with unforgettable, only-in-New-York experiences.”

NYC’s neighborhoods are all easily accessible via the city’s extensive transit system and campaign organizers say travelers who veer out of Manhattan and into the more obscure neighborhoods will be rewarded with a more affordable stay.

Bushwick, Fort Greene and Williamsburg are the first neighborhoods to be featured in the tourism initiative, which kicks off today. You can check out the neighborhood highlights here.

[Photo credit: NYC & Company]

Why you should visit National Parks in the off-season

So, you missed out on those fee-free weekends at the National Parks last year? Don’t sweat it — you didn’t miss much. As with anything that’s both free and open to the public, those weekends drew huge crowds. And while gratis is always nice, fighting the crowds is decidedly not. The way we see it, America’s pristine National Park system is best enjoyed with as little ambient noise as possible. After all, entering these parks gives you a chance to really connect with nature and to simply soak in some of the most beautiful regions of the country. Good luck trying to soak anything in with hordes of tourists surrounding you, kids wailing about their PSP battery dying and crowded roadways leading to the entrance.

For better or worse, most National Parks turn into circuses (or zoos, if you prefer that visual) during the warmer months. Particularly in the flagship parks (Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, Great Smoky Mountains, etc.), the summer months lead to bumper-to-bumper traffic, waiting lines at scenic pulloffs, and a general sense of frustration. Call us crazy, but that doesn’t exactly sound like the ideal National Park experience.

Thankfully for you, there’s a solution. Go now.The winter months are undoubtedly the time to visit, and for a number of reasons. For starters, you’ll find fewer people around you. In essence, you get more of the park to “yourself,” with more room to explore areas that you find particularly interesting. There’s also less waiting at the entrance, no queues for snapping shots at gorgeous overlooks and no added stress. There’s also the distinct chance that you’ll see magnificent sites covered in snow, which certainly adds a touch of character to things and gives your shots a lot more color.

We recently visited the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, and we’d be shocked if 50 other vehicles were at the park. Generous portions were drizzled with a light dusting of snow, but all of the roads were perfectly clear and all of the trails were open for exploration. There’s also the huge benefit of being able to drive yourself up and down Hermit Road. For those unaware, Hermit Road is a seven mile stretch that bends around the south rim, and it provides stunning overlooks over a great variety of points around the canyon. You’ll feel as if you’re looking at completely different canyons when moving from pullout to pullout, and it’s a real joy to cruise at your leisure, pull off at each stop and gaze at the new angles presented to you. Here’s the kicker: it’s only open to public vehicles in December, January and February. The rest of the year, you’ll be forced to park your ride and hop on a shuttle with scads of others. Don’t get us wrong — we appreciate the green aspect of using public transportation, but having the autonomy to drive yourself really enriches the experience.

We also stopped by Arches National Park in Utah, and we were able to secure rare shots of Delicate Arch surrounded by snow. The 1.5 mile hike was also made more difficult (and in turn, entirely more fun) by forcing us to trudge through the white stuff while attempting to scout out the next trailhead. We only passed three couples on the march to the top. It felt less like following school kids in a single-file line and more like blazing our own trail up a mountain. Be honest with yourself — which option would you prefer? To contrast this, we visited Yosemite in the dead of summer last year, and even during the recession, the main highway (US 120) that crosses from east to west was jammed, and we had a much tougher time locating spots for pictures in which no people were around.

Finally, heading to National Parks in the off-season will save you big bucks on travel. Flights are typically cheaper, hotels are definitely cheaper (our 2-bedroom room at the Best Western Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel was literally 50 percent less expensive than the summer rate), and you won’t have to pay peak prices when it comes time to pick up a souvenir. If you’ve got some vacation time that you’ve been dying to burn, there’s no better time to make a National Park run than right now. These gems weren’t meant to have a theme park vibe to ’em, and all of that serenity you’ve been dreaming of will be a lot easier to find if you make the off-season your season.

[Images provided by Dana Jo Photography]

8 Reasons Visiting A Friend Makes a Great Trip

We’ve all said it. “I really need a vacation!” That common phrase is uttered in offices and at happy hours all across this great land of ours by people in desperate need of some time away from their everyday lives.

Unfortunately, breaking the inertia of that hectic yet mundane existence can be challenging. What you need is some decision-making lubrication. Put down the WD-40 and instead check your address book. Nothing makes for an affordable, memorable and energizing trip than a visit to a friend. What seems like a simple idea can spawn some of the best possible adventures. If you don’t believe me, well, I’m writing this from Whitehorse, the capital of Canada’s Yukon Territory. I’m here visiting my friend Eva Holland of World Hum. And this isn’t the first time I’ve traversed the globe just to say hi to a someone I know. So, what makes visiting a friend such a special vacation? Let’s count the ways.

1. A Good Excuse – OK, we’ve determined that you need a vacation but may have a hard time summoning the motivation to pull the trigger. Visiting a friend gives you the perfect excuse to get off your ass, ask for some time off and get away from your everyday life for a while. There’s no planning or research necessary. Just ask your friend if you can come, ask your boss if you can leave and then get going!

2. It’s Cheap(er) – Sure, you’re going to need a plane/bus/train ticket and that’s going to cost you a bit. But when you arrive at your friend’s house, you’ll have a place to stay and a kitchen in which to cook your own meals. Accommodations and food can be the two biggest expenses once you’re on the ground. Knock those costs down a few pegs and your trip just got a whole lot more affordable. And that just means more cheesie souvenirs and drinks for you (and for your friend, since you should treat her to a round or two for being your host)..

3. Friendly Tour Guide – Who needs guidebooks and expensive tours when you have a local friend? Not only can your buddy share his expertise with you, you’ll get to experience the destination through the eyes of a local. Of course, seeing the touristy sights is worth it, but the best experiences often come at seemingly innocuous local restaurants or on lazy days in a park. Share a “typical” afternoon with your friend and enjoy a slice-of-life experience that no tourist would ever have. You’ll leave having a better understanding of the place than you would if you just followed that guidebook’s advice.

4. Getting to Know You – Odds are, if you’re visiting this friend, you’ve kept in touch with her since she moved away. You’ve listed to her stories on the phone, followed her on Twitter and killed time at work by perusing her online photo galleries. But do you really have a sense of what her new life is like? By visiting a friend, you’ll have a new appreciation for her anecdotes and everything that she’s shared with you will have more context. You’ll meet her friends, see where she lives and party where she parties. Your friend may have a new life away from you, but there’s no reason that you can’t get to know it (and her) better by paying a visit.

5. New Friends – Speaking of meeting her friends, you’ll get to expand your social circle on your visit. Having you in town will be the perfect excuse for your friend to host a dinner party or rally a group to hit the town. Meeting new people and spending time with locals make travel such a wonderful activity. By visiting someone, you’re guaranteed make new friends on your trip. At the very least, you’ll get some new Facebook friends out of it.

6. Built-In Travel Pal – We’ve written a fair amount about travel companions here at Gadling. But when it comes to visiting a friend, all you need to worry about is getting there. Once you arrive, your friend will be around to create memories with you. Even if he needs to work for part of the time, you’ll still be able to explore your surroundings with him when he’s free rather than always being alone. And those are the types of stories that will make your other friends regret not joining you for that visit.

7. You’re Going Where? – I’m sure I would have gone to Sydney, Amsterdam and Chicago whether or not I knew people there. But I’m not sure when I would have made my way to Fargo or Whitehorse if I didn’t have friends to visit. Going to a somewhat obscure or less “sexy” locale is a fantastic byproduct of visiting a friend, You’ll get to see a place that you may never have experienced and learn that it’s just as awesome, if not more so, than many of the more popular destinations around the world. You can have Paris. I’ll happily spend my week in the Yukon.

8. A Friendly Face – For you, the visit may just be a vacation. For your friend, however, it’s a chance to see a someone familiar. Whether she admits it or not, her new life may still have her longing for the comforts of her old home. Your visit won’t just be about you getting away. It’s will be a chance to remind your friend that she hasn’t been forgotten and that people will actually visit her — no matter how remote her new home may be. Bring a bag of her favorite junk food or a t-shirt from her old local bar and it will be the best gift you can give as a house guest.

Visiting a friend is so much more than just a vacation. It’s a chance to learn about a new place, reconnect with someone special and experience life as a local. Visits to friends often generate the fondest memories of travel, as those trips tend to strengthen old bonds, create new inside jokes and foster a comfort level that is often hard to achieve when traveling to a place that is completely unknown to you.

So, the next time you are desperate to get away and think that it’s just too difficult to plan a trip, consider those friends who have relocated to a place that you never would have imagined going. Write one of them an email or, better yet, give him a call. He’ll be thrilled to hear from you and beyond excited that you want to visit. Before you know it, you’ll be together again. Just be sure to thank him and to pack that gift from home.

Did I miss any good reasons for visiting a friend? Have you had an amazing trip just by reconnecting with someone who had moved away? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments.