TIME Travel

How to Master a Disney Cruise

The Disney Dream docks at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the tropical waters of the Bahamas.
David Roark The Disney Dream docks at Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the tropical waters of the Bahamas.

Be prepared to stay offline, but limitless activities will keep you busy and entertained

For those who love to have their vacations well-mapped, a Disney cruise—with an itinerary that’s almost entirely pre-planned—holds a lot of appeal. It’s why, when I booked my first-ever cruise, I went with a four-day trip in the Caribbean on the Disney Dream—despite the fact that I was going with my boyfriend… and that we don’t have any children. Still, I spent many hours researching to make sure we maximized our time on board, and learned way more upon embarking. The takeaways, below:

Pre-Purchase

Disney, which has made a name for itself in the service industry, makes you feel like you’re in incredible hands throughout the entire booking process. Because it’s one of the most popular cruise lines and almost always sells out, Disney rarely offers deals—as a rule of thumb, the sooner you book, the lower the price. Once you confirm your booking, Disney sends a pre-cruising booklet, with just about any information you could ask for—general itinerary, embarkation and disembarkation times, what to bring (and what’s prohibited), and more. I loved having a physical copy to refer to as I was planning my trip. And don’t toss the booklet after you’ve read through it, because it includes luggage tags to ensure your bags get delivered to the right room.

Flights and Transportation

The official embarkation time is noon, but the process actually starts much earlier. We took the earliest flight in, and ended up with precious extra hours on the ship. And while disembarkation starts at 7 am, and Disney recommends not booking a flight before 1pm, we got off the boat with time to spare. Budget in extra time for customs upon disembarkation—sadly, TSA doesn’t (yet) run as efficiently as Disney.

Disney offers transportation from the airport to the ship, but at $70 per person, I thought it was a bit steep (though it may be worth it for the peace of mind, or if you have a lot of luggage, because they’ll check your bags onto the ship for you). We ended up taking a shuttle from CorTrans, for $40 each roundtrip.

Port Excursions

Even though we were only docking in two places, Nassau and Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island), there was an insane amount of activities to choose from, from basic equipment rentals to a full day at Atlantis’s water park to a rum tasting tour. Book these early, as the most popular ones fill up. We decided to snorkel in Nassau, which worked out perfectly because it happened to be drizzling that day. On Castaway Cay, we opted to just enjoy the pristine beach. There’s a family beach and an adults-only one, and more than enough space for everybody.

Day Bag

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that once you’ve handed your luggage off to crew members—which could be as early as 10 a.m., you won’t see it again until much later that afternoon. So make sure to have a separate bag with a change of clothing in case you want to hit the pool early on, any medications, and of course, your passport and required forms for boarding.

On the Cruise

The only semblance of calm you’ll see on a Disney Cruise is if you get on board as early as possible on day one—the water slide line will be shorter, the buffet lines more approachable. Use this time to sign up for last-minute port excursions, get tickets to meet Disney princesses and characters, or just to enjoy the room. Every night, a Personal Navigator is delivered to your room with the next day’s activities, movies, events, and more. Even better, download the Disney Cruise app, with a map of the ship and the full calendar, before you board—this saved us time when we forgot where certain activities were held or if we wanted to know what was going on elsewhere on the ship. And don’t miss the amazing water slide, which is great during the day but even better at night when it’s lit up with lights. Yes, the line can get long, but if you go while the ship is in port, it’s much more manageable. And the movies on the big outdoor screen above the pool are a welcome distraction while you’re waiting.

Food

I’ll admit I didn’t have the highest expectations for the food, save for the specialty restaurants, Remy and Palo, which cost additional. I’m happy to report that the food far exceeded my expectations. There were a few favorites at the buffet I returned to over and over again—stone crab claws, peel-and-eat shrimp, chicken fingers, chocolate chip cookies—and the evening meals were varied and delicious. But the highlight, without a doubt, was our meal at Palo, the Italian restaurant on board. For $30 each, we had an incredible meal that rivaled any fine dining experience in New York. (Remy, the newer French restaurant, costs an extra $80 per person.)

Entertainment

The first thing we discovered, to my utter delight, was that the in-room TV has every single Disney movie available on-demand, for free. I’ll admit I could have gladly watched movies for 72 hours straight, but stopped myself. Every night, there’s a different musical show that incorporates Disney songs and characters, both classic and new. And first-run movies are shown in the two big theaters—on our cruise, these included Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tomorrowland, and Big Hero 6. There’s popcorn and soda sold outside the theaters, or you can save a few bucks by heading to the buffet before the show for soda, soft serve, and yes, more chocolate chip cookies.

Final Notes

Cash is not accepted on the ship or at the island, so all you have to do is carry your room key, which is connected to a credit card. Cell service is non-existent on the ship and at Castaway Cay, and Wi-Fi is quite expensive on board, so be prepared to stay offline the entire cruise. I was worried about being so disconnected, but the seemingly limitless activities kept me more than busy, and the lack of email meant I truly felt like I was on vacation. In fact, as we returned to Port Canaveral, I felt pangs of sadness as the AT&T bars popped back up—it meant it was time to leave the incredible cocoon of a world that Disney has created at sea.

This article originally appeared on Travel + Leisure

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TIME Travel

These Are the Friendliest Cities in America

These cities will welcome you with open arms

As a Nashville native, Meagan Nordmann thought she knew all about friendly locals—until she flew to Albuquerque.

“Before my plane had even landed in The Land of Enchantment, I
had probably 20 tweets from locals offering to take me out for coffee,” says the digital marketer, who recently relocated to the New Mexico city.
 “I dare say, Albuquerque is even friendlier than Nashville. I suppose this is one of the reasons locals here jokingly call it ‘The Land of Entrapment.’ ”

That group-hug mentality is indeed one reason why the Southwestern city—as well as the affable folks in Tennessee—made Travel+Leisure’s top 10 for friendly cities. In the most recent America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 38 metro areas for such inviting features as wine bars, pizza and luxury shopping—along with the conviviality of the locals who might be serving drinks, ringing up your order or just offering directions outside your hotel.

Geographically, the top 15 winners represent a distinct advantage among heartland cities—though one could argue that the size of city, not the location, may be a better indicator of heart. The winning cities also ranked well in the survey for some concrete features that make it easy for locals to show off their sunny demeanors: pedestrian-friendly streets, cool boutiques, coffee houses, and even communal, picnic-table-equipped food truck pods.

The friendliest cities have certain intangible qualities, too. Charleston’s high ranking may come in part from its slower-paced lifestyle, says Isabelle Furth, a p.r. exec who lives in Washington D.C. (a city that, ahem, did not make the top 15 this year). “I remember walking into an upscale boutique in Charleston and being offered sweet tea and a cookie,” says Furth. “The soft Southern accents don’t hurt, either.”

  • 1. Nashville

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    Courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation

    With a song in their hearts—and probably one on their lips, too—these Tennesseans won the survey for making visitors feel welcome. Not surprisingly, they also won the survey for their music scene: you can mingle with the locals at the singer-songwriter-loving Listening Room Café; the rehabbed, music-plus-eats Acme Feed & Seed; or at lovable dives like Santa’s Pub, the double-wide-trailer-housed bar managed by a suspiciously jovial bearded fellow. Nashville also ranked at No. 11 for its cheery food trucks, like Biscuit Love and Smokin Thighs. All that smiling is apparently good for the skin: Nashvillians also made the top 10 for their good looks.

  • 2. Salt Lake City

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    Adam Barker

    These outdoorsy locals apparently treat visitors like family. In that spirit, the city also ranked near the top for being both kid-friendly and having a sense of adventure; outside of ski season, you can combine the two at Snowbird—by hiking, mountain biking or riding its twisting Alpine Slide and Mountain Coaster. If you come to ski in December, though, you can see why the city also ranked at No. 3 for Christmas lights. Year-round, readers’ favorite food in SLC was the burger, in part because the city has its own regional quirk: pastrami-topped wonders, like the originals found at Crown Burgers.

  • 3. Minneapolis/St. Paul

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    Meet Minneapolis

    If they’re weren’t so darn nice, you might have to loathe these Minnesotans, who also ranked at the top of the survey for being smart and super-fit. Plus, they know how to entice visitors, earning the silver-medal spot for free attractions like the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (currently showing an exhibition of pieces from the royal Habsburgs) and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (home to Claes Oldenburg’s Spoonbridge and Cherry). To bond with the locals over one of their well-ranked craft brews—they took the bronze medal for beer in this year’s survey—go to Dangerous Man Brewing Co., where, just to be nice, patrons are invited to join in community volunteer projects. Speaking of perceived danger, the Twin Cities also ranked near the top for feeling nicely non-threatening.

  • 4. Kansas City

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    Visit KC

    These helpful Missourians clearly made readers feel at ease: the city ranked at the top for being both affordable and having good drivers. The locals also warmed the hearts of readers with their barbecue, which won the survey this year. While you can’t go wrong with the classic burnt ends at either Arthur Bryant’s or Gates Bar-B-Q (with its “Hi, May I Help You?” sign), carnivorous foodies also love The Local Pig, near the East Bottoms stockyards district, which boasts of using only humanely raised meats and gets creative with lamb, rabbit, and duck, along with dishes like burnt-end bratwursts and Thai peanut sausage.

  • 5. Oklahoma City

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    Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau

    The folks in Oklahoma’s state capitol struck readers as having few pretensions: they ranked as the least rude and the least snobby in the nation (but, alas, also as the least stylish). But perhaps they just have a misunderstood fashion sense: some of the best shops in the artsy Plaza District have a serious streak of kitsch, like the retro boutique Dig It and the in-your-face vintage of Bad Granny’s Bazaar. To channel a little more of the city’s grandmotherly karma—and see why the city was perhaps underrated for its wild side—order a slice of Bird Dog Buttermilk (peaches, raspberries and brown sugar oat crumble) at the neighborhood’s Pie Junkie.

  • 6. Charleston

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    Peter Frank Edwards

    Not only do these South Carolinians rank as some of the best-mannered people in the nation, they’re also some of the best coiffed, ranking at No. 3 for being pretty. Charleston also scored No. 1 for its pretty (and hospitable) architecture: You can stay in the John Rutledge House Inn, the only home of a Constitution signer that is now a B&B. Since the city also ranked near the top for home décor and antique shopping, you can take some of the hospitable vibe home: check out the Matouk and Sferra linens at The Boutique, off Washington Square, which, despite all the crystal and china, also welcomes dogs (assuming they are well-mannered, too).

  • 7. Pittsburgh

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    VisitPittsburgh

    These Pennsylvanians got high marks for being exuberant—they ranked at No. 1 for sports-team passion—but they know how to make nice in the off-season. If you want to break bread with them, go to one of their famed (and No. 6-ranked) sandwich places—like Primanti Bros., where the sliced-bread sandwiches are topped with coleslaw and French fries, or Peppi’s, where you can butter up the Steelers fans by ordering a Roethlisburger (named for quarterback Ben, and topped with ground beef, sausage, eggs and cheese). Pittsburgh also made the top 20 for its mass transit: the buses and light rail are accommodatingly free within the city’s Golden Triangle zone.

  • 8. New Orleans

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    Pat Garin

    In the city that triumphed at No. 1 for quirky locals, wall-to-wall festivals, and wild weekends, readers clearly felt they could be themselves here. Since the city ranked in the top five for nearly every nightlife category, locals might seem even friendlier after dark: you can come as you are to the no-cover-charge, Saturday night dance party at The Hi-Ho Lounge (with DJ-spun funk, jazz and “underground disco” until 3 a.m.), or pull up a stool to the tabby-cat bartender at beloved dive bar Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge (known to attract fun-loving celebs like Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney). No coincidence, the city also ranked at the top of the survey for vivid people-watching.

  • 9. Albuquerque

    9-albuquerque
    MarbleStreetStudio.com

    The New Mexico city made the friendly top 10 for its affable citywide demeanor: it ranked well for its lack of noise, great weather, and overall relaxing vibe. The locals also seem to have a healthy sense of humor: You can spend the night in a rehabbed psychiatric hospital (the sleek Hotel Parq Central), or pick up sweets related to the city’s connection to Breaking Bad, like the faux crystal-meth candy from The Candy Lady or even the “Blue Sky” donuts at Rebel Donut. Just don’t spoil your appetite: Albuquerque also ranked well for its street food, and has a large presence on the state’s so-dubbed Breakfast Burrito Byway: two classic spots are Frontier and Burrito Lady.

  • 10. Austin

    10-austin
    Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau

    The Texas capital is a highly social town. You can find chatty locals jogging around Lady Bird Lake (they ranked at No. 5 for being fit), taking a dip in the bracing waters of Barton Springs, or just waiting in line for the legendary brisket and trimmings at East Austin’s Franklin Barbecue. The city also ranked well for brainy locals and bookstores—and you can find both at BookPeople, the city’s nerve center for readings and book signings. Granted, these locals might want to be more than friends: Austin also ranked in the top 5 for its singles scene.

    This article originally appeared on Travel + Leisure

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TIME Internet

Cecil the Lion, Walter Palmer and the Psychology of Online Shaming

What the online hate directed at a U.S. dentist, who shot and killed a lion in Zimbabwe, says about us.

Walter Palmer, the U.S. dentist who shot and killed Cecil the lion while on a hunting trip in Zimbabwe is, not surprisingly, facing a barrage of hate, threats and shaming on social media.

Palmer’s River Bluff dental practice in Bloomington, Minnesota has been shut since news of the scandal broke with a throng of protesters campaigning outside. Meanwhile, Internet users have flooded his Yelp page with stinging “reviews” and calls to boycott his practice. He is quickly losing his reputation and his business.

Palmer has maintained that he didn’t know the hunt was illegal, nor that the lion he killed was collared or part of a study. But in the eyes of impassioned online commentators and celebrity tweeters, Palmer is an “instant villain.”

“Something like this, which involves a lion, touches so many nerves.” Glenn Selig, founder and chief strategist at The Publicity Agency, a PR firm that works in crisis management, tells TIME. “This doctor becomes an instant villain: he’s apparently wealthy, and been portrayed as entitled and doing what he wants.”

And as so many before Palmer have found out, it doesn’t take killing an endangered animal to make you public enemy No.1.

In 2012, Lindsey Stone became an online pariah after a photo went viral of her posing and giving the finger next to a sign at the Arlington National Cemetery that read “Silence and Respect.”

Stone told the Guardian that it was a joke between friends to take stupid photographs and she had no idea her Facebook settings were not set to private.

Within 24-hours of the photo going viral, Stone had found herself in the middle of the equivalent to a public lynching. She received thousands of derogatory comments, including death and rape threats and was fired from her job as a care worker.

“Literally overnight, everything I knew and loved was gone,” Lindsey told the Guardian. She became depressed, suffered insomnia and barely left the house for a year.

Justine Sacco shared a similar fate in 2013, when flying from New York to South Africa she tweeted a couple of sarcastic jokes, including one about getting AIDs.

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” the tweet read.

Unbeknown to Sacco, a PR officer in New York, during the 11-hour flight her tweet had been picked up and had gone around the world faster than she had, with thousands of people angrily calling her a racist and reveling in the fact she didn’t even know about the online hate awaiting her. By the time Sacco landed she was the No.1 worldwide trend on Twitter, reports the New York Times. Like Stone, she was also fired and suffered emotional trauma.

“Situations can turn terribly viscous with the truth often becoming the biggest casualty,” says Selig. “There’s so much talk on social media but no one is policing what’s being said. And people believe it regardless of who is speaking.”

The Internet is rife with examples of online shaming, whether it be for being fat, breastfeeding in public, wearing the “wrong” maternity clothes or for a silly tweet or photo. But what is it about the Internet, and in particular social media, that enables ordinary people to turn into crazed lynch mobs so readily?

Aaron Balick, a psychotherapist and author of The Psychodynamics of Social Networking says venting online is an easy, and anonymous, way to feel good about yourself.

“It’s so easy to be abusive online because it is just a matter of a few clicks on a keyboard and the “enter” key. An individual gets to get the bad feeling off their chest without considering that there is another human being, somewhere, on the other side of that tweet,” he said.

“This also happens on a group level where the shamed person online is made a scapegoat and the braying masses, however ultimately destructive, get to feel good about themselves.”

Jon Ronson, a journalist who has written extensively on online shaming, has interviewed Stone and Sacco at length and is author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, said social media users wield a lot of power.

“There’s a lot of people like Justine Sacco, there’s more everyday,” Ronson said in a recent TEDtalk.

“The great thing about social media was that it gave a voice to voiceless people. But we are now creating a surveillance society where the smartest way to survive is to go back to being voiceless.”

TIME advice

How to Decide Whether to Rent or Buy a Home

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Thinking about how long you'll be in the property

When determining whether or not you’re ready to be a homeowner, there are a number of factors to consider — several of which are personal, and hinge on exactly where you want to live.

“Many property experts would say that there are parts of the country where renting outweighs the costs of ownership,” says Brian Sergi-Curfman, a Realtor in Pittsburgh. “Potential buyers or tenants may find themselves in markets that are depreciating or, conversely, in areas where values have priced them out of the housing market. The decision to rent or buy should be influenced not only by market trends but by the client’s long- and short-term goals.”

Sheryl Grider Whitehurst, regional vice president for the National Association of Realtors, says home ownership rates are declining, having reached a peak at 69.4 percent in 2004. In the first quarter of 2015, the home ownership rate was 63.8 percent, which is the lowest it’s been since 1994.

“Young people are delaying buying a home due to student debt,” Grider Whitehurst says. “They just aren’t earning enough to carry a mortgage and the debt. Another factor is the economic crisis that occurred in 2007. People started losing their properties and have to get their finances in order to buy property again.”

And yet nationally, buying a home is 35 percent cheaper than renting, according to Trulia.com. With 30-year mortgage rates available below 4 percent, home ownership appears more affordable than many might think.

The economics of where you live certainly weigh heavily on the decision to buy or rent, but what other factors should you consider?

The pros and cons of renting

After 20 years of owning a three-bedroom, three-bath, two-story home on a steeply sloped lot, empty nesters Gay and Harry Stephens were ready to downsize. They now live in a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in a building that was once an all-girls Catholic school in Newport, Kentucky.

“We wanted to rent because it’s easier to take care of and we have the ability to turn the key and walk away when traveling,” she says. “There’s no yard work, and someone else is now responsible when there are maintenance issues.”

Gay Stephens says the couple also likes their location and accessibility to favorite restaurants and entertainment venues in Northern Kentucky and downtown Cincinnati.

“I was surprised how much I enjoy urban living,” she says, adding that there are some negatives to renting, such as slow response times for repairs and not building equity through their housing costs.

Other disadvantages to renting can include unanticipated rent increases, non-renewal of a lease, and not being able to customize the living space.

“On the other hand, you’re not tied to the property nor do you have to come up with a down payment and closing costs to live there,” says Realtor Josh Bushner in Austin, Texas. “If you’re new to a city or not sure you’ll be there for longer than three years, I usually recommend renting until you’re certain you’ll be staying longer. Also, make sure coming up with a down payment won’t put you in a cash-strapped position. Take time to get familiar with a city and find neighborhoods that will meet your lifestyle.”

Elizabeth Cales of Clarksville, Tennessee, says that despite being financially secure enough to purchase a home, she’s happy to rent.

“It’s a buyer’s market here,” she says. “You can get a mortgage for $650 a month, which is what we pay in rent, but with my husband’s work we’re not sure we’ll be here in three years. We don’t want to take a loss on a house we might not be able to sell.”

Cales says one of her favorite aspects of apartment living is the close-knit community, so much so that the Angie’s List member gave her complex a positive review. “The neighbors are all close and it’s just nice,” she says. “I feel more secure having people around.”

The pros and cons of owning a home

Home equity is one of the biggest assets to buying instead of renting. In addition, most buyers can obtain tax benefits by writing off real estate taxes, mortgage interest, and specific closing costs, whereas renters don’t typically get federal tax deductions. Although, some states will offer a tax break for renters.

In addition, house renters often don’t realize that they’re paying the principle, interest, taxes, and insurance (and usually some extra padding for landlord repairs) in their monthly payments, which could be put toward building equity in their own homes.

Newlywed Leslie Radigan-Yodice of Albuquerque, New Mexico, initially thought she and her expanded family would move from an apartment into a rental home, but after figuring out the finances, they decided in the summer of 2014 that it was a great time to buy.

“My monthly payment is about $300 more, but we have a four bedroom, two-bath house with a garage,” she says. “I love that we’re building equity while creating a true home. And I love that I don’t have to walk across the street to do my laundry.”

Sometimes, the decision to own a home comes down to certain intangibles.

“While there’s definitely a strict financial answer to whether it’s better to rent versus buy, don’t discount the emotional part of the process,” says Deb Agliano of Re/Max Andrew Realty in Medford, Massachusetts. “For some people, it’s not a matter of what makes more financial sense, emotionally they want to know that they own their own home.”

Mary and Garret Goetzinger of Portland, Oregon, say owning their four-bedroom Craftsman is a welcome change after 15 years of renting.

“Being able to create your own space and freedom to design it however you want is a positive,” the couple agree, noting that they did have to move a little farther out than they anticipated to get the house they wanted. “Owning a home isn’t cheap, and we’re on the hook if something goes wrong.”

Handling the maintenance, upkeep and repairs is one of the biggest differences for Janice Pare and her husband Gordon Wichern, who recently purchased a three-bedroom Cape Cod in Arlington, Massachusetts.

“One other negative is the lack of flexibility to move whenever and wherever we want with just 30 days notice,” Pare says. “But we feel that being homeowners makes us more invested in our community, and we plan to get more involved in our new part of town.”

Deciding to buy a house is a big responsibility, and potential homeowners need to answer some serious questions before taking that leap, says real estate agent Dianne Hansen in Fairfax, Virginia.

“Will it give you a sense of pride?” she asks. “Are repairs stressful or something you’re willing to learn to do? How long will you be in the house? If it’s less than two years, it might not be worth buying. If you’ll be there five or more years, it’s a good bet.”

So … rent or buy?

After weighing all the factors, it might come down to what will make you happy.

“If you’re not sure if you want to buy or rent, think about the enjoyment you will get out of owning your own home,” Hansen says. “If there isn’t any, you might want to rent for a few more years.”
Sergi-Curfman agrees, and says no one should frown upon the idea of renting.

“The American dream has always included the white picket fence surrounding a house in the suburbs, but for many people, this dream is really a myth,” he says. “Renting should never be looked at as inferior to owning a home. You and only you know your goals best, and it is incumbent upon any potential buyer or renter to seek out professional advice from people that they trust to give them a fuller financial picture of their current and future goals.”

Yet, Grider Whitehurst says despite the potential attractiveness of renting, most people want to own a home at some point in their lives.

“Overwhelmingly, Americans see home ownership as a good investment,” she says. “You have to pay to live somewhere — whether you rent or own. You just have to know when is the right time for you.”

This article originally appeared on Angie’s List

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TIME advice

How to Save on Your Energy Bill

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Try using fans instead of air conditioner

Cooling off in the summer has come a long way from the days of my childhood. Back when I was a kid, we used to hang out all day in the local ice cream shop because they had central air conditioning, and we went through those colored ices that comes in plastic sleeves (you know, the ones you have to rip open with your teeth) like they were life support. Couple that with late-afternoon trips through the sprinkler and you had your summer energy-savings program in order. These days, though, with central air conditioning, summer cooling bills can easily skyrocket as high as your winter bills. Here’s a few easy ways to shave off some dollars.

Just like I told you in the winter, the key to home heating and cooling efficiency is insulation, insulation, insulation. It’s important to make sure the walls and windows of your home aren’t leaking air. Just like your refrigerator shouldn’t be left open to cool the whole kitchen, your house shouldn’t be cooling the yard. Buy a cheap roll of weatherstripping tape, and seal up those doors and windows. Also, make sure to clean the filters on your air conditioning vents at least once a month — this will help your air conditioning be more efficient.

Next, if you have fans in your house, use them. If you don’t, considering installing a few. Fans can go a long way to cooling down a room and take up a lot of less energy than having your air conditioning on full blast. Having fans in your house allows you to program your thermostat up to 4 degrees higher because of the air circulation they provide.

Also, try line-drying your clothes instead of using the dryer. When you use the dryer, clean the lint trap after each use, and make sure your dryer is set to the proper moisture setting. Often, dryers run for much longer than they need to get clothes dry.

Another thing you can do is to try not to use your dryer or your oven or other appliances that can heat up the house during the hottest time of the day. This makes my kitchen absolutely unbearable, and the only way to catch a break is to crank up the AC. Bad idea. Try doing your cooking in the cooler morning hours or after the sun goes down if you can.

I know this one’s an oldie, but it’s a goodie — turn those appliances off! This can definitely save you a bundle when done right. That means not just putting your computer in sleep mode, but turning it off completely. The same goes for your TV, stereo and any other home electronics. Even better — if you can, unplug them. This can save you 10-20 percent on your yearly energy bill. Try hooking up all the electronics at your desk to one power strip and switching it off at night.

Finally, why not keep some of those plastic sleeve ice pops handy as a last resort? Or better yet, hearken back to the days of yore and make your own ice pops. They’re a lot cheaper than keeping your air conditioning on high, and in my humble opinion, they work even better.

This article originally appeared on MNN.com

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TIME advice

5 Unusual Ways to Stay Cool

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No need to run air conditioner all day long

In the Northern Hemisphere, there’s no doubt summer is here — and with it, the perpetual quest to stay cool. For those of us interested in sustainability, the thought of huge summer cooling bills (and all the greenhouse emissions they cause) is enough to send a chill down the spine.

You’ve probably heard the basics of summertime energy management: keep your air conditioner filters clean, make sure your weather stripping is tight, draw the drapes during the heat of the day, and avoid the use of big heat-creating appliances like ovens and ranges whenever possible. If you want a quick review of hot weather energy-saving ideas, check this giant list of summer cooling tips.

But there are other ways to keep your cool through the summer. We’ve rounded up five for your consideration, including several tried-and-true methods from the days before central air. Give one or two a shot, and see how they work for you.

1. Go tropical

Take the lead of those who spend most of their lives in tropical climates: loose, lightweight cotton and linen clothing rules.

The guayabera, sometimes called the “Mexican wedding shirt,” is constructed to cool you naturally. A relative of the traditional Filipino barong, the guayabera wicks moisture from the skin and is worn untucked to promote air circulation. Madras is another good summertime choice for both men’s and women’s clothing.

Don’t forget the old standard of the American Deep South: seersucker. Originally an Indian import, its crisp cotton and cooling ridges make it a hot weather classic.

2. Cool that pulse point

When you were sick as a child, your mom may have brought you a cold facecloth. This idea works the same way.

Chill your pulse points by running cold water over your wrist for a minute or so each hour. Splashing water on your temples or face can produce a similar effect. And be sure to put some of that tap water into a glass and stay hydrated.

3. Don’t eat: Graze

Ever notice how you feel hot after a big meal? It’s not just because the food was served warm.

Big, protein-laden meals force your body to stoke its metabolic fires. The solution is to break up your eating into smaller, more frequent meals. You’ll feel cooler — and it’s better for you, anyway.

4. Eat to sweat

Latin America, India, Thailand — some of the world’s hottest places. And they happen to serve some of the world’s hottest foods.

Scientists have argued for years over why this is the case, but the most likely reason is that spicy foods make you sweat without actually raising body temperature. Chalk it up to capsaicin, a chemical found in things like hot peppers. Once your skin is damp, you’ll feel cooled by its evaporation.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to also reread our article on choosing a safer deodorant.

5. Stay cool under the covers

A lot of people find it difficult to sleep in hot weather.

Want to cool the bed down? Fill a standard hot water bottle with ice water. Use it to cool your ankles and the back of your knees — it works. You can also try bagging your sheets and tossing them in the freezer for an hour or two before bed.

Cooling your head cools your entire body. Opt for a cool and absorbent pillow of organic cotton if at all possible. Put aside down and latex pillows until the weather cools down this autumn.

This article originally appeared on MNN.com

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TIME Travel

These Are America’s Most Charming Cities

These cities are sure to captivate your heart and soul

To find the heart of New York City, you need the right shoes.

“I always seek out a city’s charms on foot,” says Rachel Rudman, co-creator of the travel series How 2 Travelers. In the Big Apple, she says, walking gives her the thrill of “moving through a sea of people who are drastically different from one another, yet all working to make a life in the city,” while in Charleston, “every main street, alleyway and market feels as though it holds centuries of stories.”

Travel+Leisure readers would agree, placing both New York City and Charleston in the top 10 of uniquely charming cities. In this year’s America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers voted on dozens of features that make 38 cities special, from museums to bakeries and flea markets. To highlight the most bewitching cities, we combined the rankings for interesting architecture, pedestrian-friendly streets, quaint bookstores, a sense of history and a friendly atmosphere—and nice wine bars didn’t hurt, either.

Several winners had one thing in common: old neighborhoods that have found new life, with cobblestone streets as well as cool shops and little cafes. Otherwise, in some winning cities, charm means easy access to public art, or food truck pods where locals gather around the fire pit with guitars. One cozy city even has a self-proclaimed “snuggery.”

With most the winners, too, those walkable streets are key—assuming you stray off the tourist grid. Barri Bronston, author of Walking New Orleans, advises Crescent City visitors to do Bourbon Street once—then move on. “Take the Bywater neighborhood,” she says, “with its houses painted in vibrant purples, oranges, and blues. Until I walked its streets, I had no idea how cool it really was. I’m a life-long resident of New Orleans, but I always feel like I’m discovering something new.”

  • No. 20 Baltimore

    20-baltimore
    Philip Scalia / Alamy

    The town that dubbed itself Charm City—granted, as a long-ago marketing strategy—clearly has planted its flag in the charming top 20. (That flag may be a freak flag, though: the locals also made the top 10 for being offbeat.) Baltimore also scored in the top 10 for historic appeal—like Fell’s Point, the waterfront community that that was once the nation’s second-largest immigration point, after Ellis Island. To experience the neighborhood to the fullest, stay at boutique hotel Admiral Fell Inn (once the home of the Seamen’s YMCA) and enjoy one the city’s highly ranked dive bars, The Horse You Came In On—which was likely a dive even when it first opened in 1775.

  • No. 19 Pittsburgh

    19-pittsburgh
    JP Diroll

    Pittsburgh’s most charming area does not ignore the Rust Belt’s industrial roots—instead, it embraces it. Just north of downtown, the Strip District was once the home of Andrew Carnegie’s first mills as well as the nerve center of the city’s produce markets. Today, it’s the home of the Pittsburgh Public Market, Pittsburgh Opera and the modern-dance Attack Theatre. The city also ranked at No. 6 for its pizza, like the classic Neapolitan at Il Pizzaiolo in Market Square and downtown’s Proper Brick Oven and Tap Room. Charming or not, the locals won the survey for being the most enthusiastic sports fans.

  • No. 18 Seattle

    18-seattle
    iStockphoto

    Even if it’s a first stop for many tourists, nothing exudes the charm of Seattle—and can make you feel like a flowers-and-fruit-buying local—quite like wandering the 9-acre Pike Place Market. But a block or so away from the market’s salmon-tossing workers, the charm factor compounds on Post Alley; the brick-paved detour features spots like The Pink Door, which serves candlelit Italian cuisine and quirky live shows like Eastern European jazz and trapeze acts. Seattle also came in at No. 2 for its coffee: one of the most relaxing places to enjoy it is at the café in the Elliott Bay Book Store, where you can also see why the charmingly rainy city ranked at No. 3 for its bookstores.

  • No. 17 Cleveland

    17-cleveland
    ThisIsCleveland.com / Cody York

    Forget the old jokes about this industrial town, which has elegantly cultivated its old-school charms. The nerve center of its appeal is in the Victorian-era Tremont neighborhood, once settled by immigrants and now home to Prosperity Social Club, a lounge set in a former ballroom, which has craft beer, Polka music and pierogies. To embrace the city’s civic pride, pick up a t-shirt that reads “Buck Yes” or “I Liked Cleveland Before It Was Cool” at downtown’s CLE Clothing.

  • No. 16 Atlanta

    16-atlanta
    Courtesy of Krog Street Market/Little Tart Bakeshop

    Readers love Atlanta for deftly walking the line between historic charm and buzz-worthy cool. You’ll find both at the Swan House in Buckhead’s Atlanta History Center: you can chat with costumed character guides at the 1920s mansion’s Open House tours—or, you can take its Capitol Tour, and see how the house was used in the film The Hunger Games. The Georgia hub also worked its way into readers’ hearts by way of their stomachs, ranking at No. 2 for Southern-comfort diners: At Buckhead’s old-style Highland Bakery, for instance, you can tuck into both sweet-potato pancakes and sweet-potato biscuits. Another heartwarming touch: at downtown’s Mary Mac’s Tea Room, the hostess still offers free back rubs at your table.

  • No. 15 Philadelphia

    15-philadelphia
    iStockphoto

    Quaint streets all over the U.S. don’t have much on Elfreth’s Alley, the tiny cobblestone road in Philly that boasts of being the oldest continuously lived-on street in the nation (you can tour the old homes once a year, on June’s Fete Day). Beyond that one street, though, the cradle of democracy gets high marks from readers for being both historic and pleasantly accessible—like the Society Hill and the Rittenhouse areas, offering gracefully restored lodgings like Rittenhouse 1715. Even some newer places can’t resist a little old-style appeal—like Random Tea Room in the Northern Liberties area, which features a Curiosity Shop of antiques alongside a 21st-century massage room.

  • No. 14 Albuquerque

    14-albuqurque
    Raymond Watt

    The New Mexico city made the top 10 for festivals, thanks to lovely parties like October’s International Balloon Fiesta. But this farm-friendly town also wooed readers with its literal cornucopia of edible delights: Casa Rondeña Winery, for instance, has wine-growing roots that go back to the 1600s. For down-to-earth lodging, stay at the 25-acre Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, whose crops include lavender, casaba melons and endangered Chimaya chilies. The city also ranked near the top for being affably kooky, like Albuquerque Alpacas’ charming sweaters, socks and dyed yarns (as well as plenty of live, fleece-producing alpacas).

  • No. 13 Nashville

    13-nashville
    Courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation

    Music City’s magnetism comes in part from its people: it ranked at the top of the survey for friendly locals. But its revamped older neighborhoods let this city of music-industry high rollers keeps its homey vibe. In the 12 South neighborhood, for instance, you can wander the bungalow-lined streets, browse in boutiques likeWhite’s Mercantile (offering such down-home delights as locally sourced grits and biscuit mix) or sit at coffeehouse-and-wine-barFrothy Monkey, where you can sip your Merlot from a quaint jelly jar. 12 South is also home to some of the city’s highly ranked barbecue: Edley’s Bar-B-Que, which smokes its brisket and ribs using local White Oak wood.

  • No. 12 Houston

    12-houston
    Courtesy of Sara's Inn

    The quaint factor in this giant business hub may not be immediately obvious, but voters still applauded the city on a variety of civilized features, from its top-ranked gourmet groceries, like Revival Market, to museums like the soothing Rothko Chapel. To get a sense of the city from earlier (and smaller) times, go to the Historic Heights neighborhood, which is filled with homes from the 1800s, some lovely inns (like the restored, Queen Anne-style Sara’s Inn on the Boulevard) and cheeky establishments like Mighty Sweet Mini Pies and Alice’s Tall Texan (where a 20-ounce Lone Star beer, served in a frosty goblet, goes for just $2.50). Indeed, the Texas city also ranked in the top 10 for both bakeries and brews.

  • No. 11 San Francisco

    11-san francisco
    Stanislav Volik / Alamy

    The City by the Bay can be one giant photo op, with such iconic charmers as the Golden Gate Bridge, the cable cars, and Alamo Square’s Painted Ladies. But if you want to spend a charming afternoon alongside the gourmand locals, browse the stalls at the Ferry Building Marketplace and its Saturday farmers market, or, sit at Caffe Trieste with a classic cappuccino and see why, even before the thoughtfully-made pour-overs of Blue Bottle and Ritual Roasters, the city has always been a winner for its coffee culture. Despite its chilly summers, San Francisco also made the top 20 for weather—proof that rolling fog offers plenty of atmospheric charm.

    Read the full list here. This article originally appeared on Travel + Leisure

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TIME Culture

America Has a New Favorite Healthy Fast Food Option

Subway has fallen for several reasons

MIMI is a Time Inc. property.

Burrito lovers, rejoice! Chipotle has moved into the top spot when it comes to healthy eating in a jiffy, according to Business Insider.

Between the ripped dude who has claimed to eat Chipotle every day for several months straight while maintaining washboard abs to consistent sales growth, the Mexican food chain is enjoying quite the popularity boom.

Subway, on the other hand, saw their sales plummet by 3%, according to The Washington Post. Once numero uno in terms of the fast food hierarchy, the sandwich purveyors dropped to number three in the ranks for the first time in seven years. Couple that with the legal issues former spokesperson Jared Fogle is facing following an FBI investigation and it creates the perfect storm of bad publicity.

The Upshot, a New York Times blog, cites the average Chipotle order as containing 1070 calories, but that isn’t stopping self-proclaimed healthy eaters from singing its praises. This is largely due to the chain’s emphasis on serving protein that isn’t laden with human antibiotics (and how many fast food eateries can say that?) along with a commitment to prepping ingredients fresh on a daily basis.

And, of course, you don’t have to load up on sour cream, cheese or even a tortilla to dine on a burrito at Chipotle. Keep your order to a lean protein, rice, guac, salsa and lettuce and you’ll cut that 1070 calorie order nearly in half.

This article originally appeared on MIMI.

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TIME Travel

4 Types of Trips That Make Traveling Solo Easy

From adventure trips to cruises

Solo travel is on the rise.

And for good reason — it allows you much more freedom and a greater opportunity to connect with locals.

According to the 2015 Visa Global Travel Intentions study, which surveyed over 13,000 travelers from 25 different countries, 24% of travelers traveled alone on their most recent leisure trip. That’s almost 10% more than in 2013.

But for some, venturing out into the world completely solo can be intimidating.

The good news is there are a number of travel companies that cater to solo travelers and can help you book a guided trip with other travelers who are on their own.

Take a look at our list below and start planning your next trip.

  • General trips

    Solos

    Solos, Britain’s number one “singles holiday company,” has been around since 1982, and they’ve been catering specifically to solo travelers from the start. The company offers all kinds of vacations — from walks and treks to cities, ski or beach vacations. They also just recently launched an American branch, Solos Vacations, which only offers trips to the UK and Italy as of right now.

    Classic Journeys

    Classic Journeys provides a solution to an issue that solo travelers have long had to deal with: supplements. Most travel companies raise prices up to 50% for those traveling alone. Classic Journeys, on the other hand, keeps its mark up to around 15%, because they only charge customers the extra fee that hotels charge for single travelers.

    This isn’t a “singles vacation” company; Classic Journeys specializes in walking tours with knowledgeable local guides. They’re happy to book you a double room just for yourself, and they’ve received top ratings from both National Geographic and Travel + Leisure. About a third of their guests book solo trips.

    Contiki Vacations

    Contiki is geared towards younger travelers, specifically those aged 18-35. The company uses forums and social media to connect vacationers with each other before they embark on their journey. Since most of their pricing is for doubles, Contiki’s goal is to match travelers up with someone of the same sex and then book a double room for them. So if you’re looking to make friends on your trip, this is the company for you.

    Abercrombie and Kent

    Best known as a luxury travel company, Abercrombie and Kent accepts solo travelers on all of its trips — to all seven continents. They also offer Solo Savings escorted group tours, where single travelers enjoy their own private accommodations during every stop of the trip, but don’t have to pay the usual single supplements. A&K either completely waives the supplement, or reduces it by up to 75%.

  • Adventure trips

    Exodus

    Exodus is unique in that it designates one or two departure dates per tour as Solo Departures, which the company suggests solo travelers use. Therefore, most of the people who leave on those dates and end up on those trips are people vacationing alone.

    Exodus’ tour guides are local and have gone through leader training. Guests can choose trips like cycling Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast or exploring Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands in South America.

    Overseas Adventure Travel

    Ideal for budget travelers, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) takes single travelers to exotic destinations such as Botswana and Patagonia. They have both land adventures, which are tours on land with groups of 10-16 other travelers, or small ship adventures, which are boat tours with anywhere from 16 to 25 other travelers.

    OAT does not charge supplements, even if you extend your trip 4-9 nights, and they offer the “Solo Traveler Challenge:” a guarantee that if you find another travel company offering a better price on a comparable trip, OAT will meet that price, plus lower it by $500.

    G Adventures

    If you’re looking for an authentic experience, G Adventures is your answer. You can sleep in tents in a desert camp in Morocco or sleep under the stars in Antarctica. Active travelers will also like G Adventures; they have multiple trekking and hiking tours, such as a 10-day journey up Mont Blanc in Switzerland.

    There are no single supplements, but G Adventures does book shared hotel rooms, so your accommodations won’t be private. However, if you choose to extend your trip by using the company’s independent extensions option, you will be charged a singles supplement.

  • Safaris

    Singita

    Singita has luxury safari lodges in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. One is located in the well known Kruger National Park, and the others are in lesser known parks. They’ve completely abandoned the single supplement, and they offer reduced pricing if you’re looking to travel in the off season.

    Wilderness Safaris

    Billed as Africa’s “foremost ecotourism operator,” Wilderness Safaris takes guests to some of the continent’s most remote locations while also helping to maintain its biodiversity. The company’s 50 luxury camps are located in eight African countries: Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

    If you travel through southern Africa during November to April 15th, Wilderness Safaris will waive not only your flight but also your accommodation charges. It’s a great deal, considering you still have a good chance of seeing just as much wildlife — but for a fraction of the price.

  • Cruises

    Norwegian Cruise Line

    On three of its ships — the Epic, Breakaway, and Pride of America — Norwegian Cruise Line has cabins made exclusively for solo travelers that cost about 30% less than a double stateroom. They offers cruises all over including Alaska, Florida and the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada and New England, Hawaii, Mexico, Europe, and Panama just to name a few.

    Lindblad Expeditions

    Like Norwegian, Lindblad Expeditions is another cruise company that offers solo cabins for a third less than the price of regular rooms. These single rooms can be found on their National Geographic Explorer, Endeavour, and Orion ships. Their destinations include the Amazon, Peru, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Caribbean.

    Grand Circle Cruise Line

    Grand Circle Cruise Line is one of the few cruise companies that does not offer a single supplement on their small ship cruises. Its small ship cruises go to the British Isles, Greece, France, Turkey, Bosnia, Spain, Burma, Iberia, and many others.

    This article originally appeared on Business Insider

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