From Germany to Houston, 5 places to go this summer

This wet, dreary day has me daydreaming of summer travel. Lazy days spent splashing in swimming pools, sipping margaritas on ocean-side decks and taking sandal-clad steps across cobblestone streets in new towns sounds pretty great right about now.

This week, I sat down to make my summer travel wishlist, places I either plan to go or wish I could visit this summer. Some are far-flung and aspirational; others are just a few quick hours down the highway. All are places that I think offer a rich, entertaining and educational experience, especially during the summer months.

Here’s my list. Got somewhere you want to go? I’d love to hear about it.

GERMANY

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Two cyclists drive through an alley of small trees in Frankfurt, Germany on May 11. credit: AP Photo/Michael Probst

Condor Airlines will start offering nonstop twice-weekly service between Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Frankfurt International Airport starting June 27. The flights will give Austinites easy access to Frankfurt, an international financial center with a central location that makes it an excellent home base for other European travel.

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS

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The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad Nantahala Gorge Excursion takes you over Fontana Lake via the historic Trellis Bridge. credit: GSMR

The National Park Services turns 100 in August, and what better way to celebrate than by visiting a national park. First on my list? The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the border of North Carolina and Tennessee and is home to mist-covered mountains, a half-dozen waterfalls and wildlife including American Black Bears, chipmunks and  lungless salamanders. While in the area, don’t miss a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which offers 53 miles of track, two tunnels and 25 bridges in the corner of North Carolina.

 

CALIFORNIA

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Santa Monica is an excellent stop during a tour of California. credit: Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post

I just returned from a trip to California in March, but I’m already dreaming of returning to the West Coast for its cool breezes, endless sunshine and countless ways to pass the time. Whether you’re enjoying a drink on the sprawling patio at Nelson’s at Terranea Resort or spending the afternoon meeting Mickey and Minnie at Disneyland, there’s plenty of fun for everyone.

HOUSTON

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The Houston skyline is one of the prettiest in Texas. credit: Greater Houston CVB

If you’re looking for a vacation that’s a little closer to home, don’t miss Houston. Always an excellent place to go for arts, culture and food, several newly opened attractions only help increase the draw. Adventure-seekers will want to stop by Wet’n’Wild SplashTown, which recently reopened following a massive reconstruction. Also just opened is the Cistern, a stunning see-it-to-believe-it underground space now available for tours. And don’t miss the chance to snap a photo in front of the Biscuit Paint Wall, where vibrant colors forever drip in mural form.

FIVE MORE TEXAS CITIES TO CONSIDER RIGHT NOW. Read here.

 

ICELAND

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This Icelandic farm is in South Iceland near the Ring Road. credit: Adrienne Butcher

Earlier this year I wrote about my desperate need to go to IcelandI still haven’t booked a ticket, but thanks to continued low airfares into Reykjavik, I’m thinking this summer could be the time. The more I hear about it, from its incredible Blue Lagoon to its spirited horses, the more I want to go.

Want more travel inspiration? Check out our online travel supplement.

 

 

 

Has a real-time earbud language translator actually arrived?

Ever wished there was a way to combat the language barrier when traveling in a foreign country, sort of like a real life Babel Fish? A company called Waverly Labs is claiming to have solved that problem.

New York-based Waverly Labs says that it has created a gadget called the Pilot that will fit in your ear and can translate foreign languages including French, Spanish and Italian in real time, potentially eliminating awkward conversations in hotel lobbies and late-night pubs forever.

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Waverly Labs says it has created a translation earpiece. credit: Waverly Labs

“I came up with the idea for a translator when I met a French girl,” says founder Andrew Ochoa in a video about the Pilot on the company’s Facebook page. “This wearable uses translation technology to allow two people to speak different languages but still clearly understand each other. It’s the dream, you know? A life untethered, free of language barriers. It’s just that it’s no longer a dream anymore. It’s real.”

This all still sounds a little too good to be true to me, so I’ve reached out to Ochoa for more information. I’ll update this post when I hear back.

In the meantime, here are more details released by the company. Waverly Labs says Pilot will retail for $249-$299 but will be available for an early-bird rate of $129 during a pre-order campaign scheduled to launch on May 25. The first languages that will be supported will include English, Spanish, French and Italian with eventual expansion to include Hindi, Arabic and more.

According to Waverly Labs, each Pilot package will come with two earpieces, one for each person speaking, a portable charger and an accompanying app. They hope to have them delivered in late fall or early winter.

Learn more about the company and the Pilot here.

Airport security is a nightmare right now, but these programs can help

If you’re planning to fly in the near future, we’ve got bad news. Thanks to a combination of TSA personnel cutbacks, tightened security procedures and surging passenger numbers, wait times at security checkpoints across the country have spiked dramatically, with some airports advising passengers to arrive as many as three hours early to avoid missing their flights.

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Worried about long security lines at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport? These programs can help. credit: Rodolfo Gonzalez/Statesman
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is not immune to this national trend. Airport spokesman Derick Hackett said that because of the TSA delays and an increase in spring and summer traffic, passengers are currently being advised to arrive to the airport at least two hours early during peak travel times (5-8 a.m., 11 a.m.–1 p.m., 3:30-5:30 p.m.) and 90 minutes early at other times.

“We want to make sure our summer travelers don’t miss their flights,” Hackett said.

 

 

 

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to avoid those long, snaking lines at security checkpoints. U.S. Customs and Border Protection offers several Trusted Traveler programs that allow pre-approved travelers who are considered low risk to receive expedited services. Most are offered at Austin-Bergstrom, including TSA Pre-Check, which launched here in January.

Here’s some information about the available programs; you can also compare them using this chart.

TSA PRE-CHECK

What is it? TSA Pre-Check offers expedited security screening to pre-approved, low-risk travelers. It can be used for both domestic and international flights. It’s available at Austin-Bergstrom and more than 160 other U.S. airports.

How do you get it? Fill out an online application, then make an appointment at an application center, where you’ll appear in person to present your U.S. passport or driver’s license as well as your birth certificate and be fingerprinted. There’s also an $85 application fee.

How does it work once you’re approved? Once approved, you’ll be given a “known traveler number” (“KTN”) to use when making flight reservations. Participating airlines (which include most of the major ones) will indicate your Pre-Check status on your boarding pass, which will allow you to go through expedited Pre-Check security lines. Pre-Check travelers may also leave their shoes, belts and jackets on and do not have to remove laptops or small liquids from their luggage.

Who should use it? The program is open to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and lawful permanent residents. Family members 12 and under traveling with a Pre-Check-approved parent or guardian may also receive expedited screening. Family members 13 or up must go through standard security lines or apply for Pre-Check themselves. There are no age restrictions on applying for Pre-Check services.

Infotsa.gov/tsa-precheck

GLOBAL ENTRY

What is it? Global Entry gives pre-approved, low-risk travelers expedited clearance when arriving from international destinations. It’s available at Austin-Bergstrom and dozens of other U.S. airports.

How do you get it? Travelers must undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview before they can be enrolled in the program. There’s also a $100 application fee.

How does it work once you’re approved? If you’re a program member landing in the U.S., you can skip the customs line and go directly to a Global Entry kiosk. There, you’ll present a passport or U.S. permanent resident card, put your fingerprints on the scanner for verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk will give you a transaction receipt and direct you to baggage claim and the exit.

Who should use it? This program is best for people who travel internationally on a regular basis.

Infocbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry

MORE OPTIONS

If you travel frequently between the U.S. and Canada, consider the NEXUS program, which expedites processing between the two countries. If you travel often between the U.S. and Mexico, try SENTRI.

Hey, Brooklyn Decker, there’s a new option for you at the airport

Austin-based actress, model and new mom Brooklyn Decker recently made headlines when she tweeted that Delta staffers told her she could deplane her delayed flight to pump breast milk for her son in the bathroom — only to return and find that her flight was closed.

Sources didn’t say where the incident happened, but next time Decker is flying out of Austin, at least she’ll have an alternative to pumping in the bathroom. Last week, Austin-Bergstrom opened a Mamava suite-style nursing station intended to “give traveling mothers privacy” and “create a pleasant place for pumping and breastfeeding,” according to a statement by the City of Austin.

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A new Mamava nursing station arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport last week. credit: City of Austin Department of Aviation

The suite, located across from Gate 7, features two bench seats, a fold-down table and electric and USB outlets. According to the release, it’s large enough to accommodate a breast pump, carry-on luggage or stroller and another parent or siblings. Learn more about the suite at mamava.com.

5 Texas trips to take right now

It’s almost summer in Texas, and that means visions of snow cones, tubing the river, barbecue road trips and beach getaways have started dancing in our heads.

On Sunday, we published a special Travel magazine for Austin American-Statesman subscribers that was filled with awe-inspiring adventures in places such as Hawaii, Iceland and Napa Valley. It also featured some can’t-miss Texas treks that would be perfect for a spring or summer jaunt. Here are five Texas destinations we think you should consider visiting soon:

DALLAS: The Dallas skyline may carry “an Emerald City aura,” but if you look deeper, writes Helen Anders, you’ll find delicious food, cultural offerings and even some chances to enjoy the great outdoors.

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Whether you’re out to play golf or croquet or simply to read a good book, join the locals in Klyde Warren Park, built over a freeway in downtown Dallas. credit: Helen Anders

BIG BEND: Pam LeBlanc is no stranger to the great outdoors, so she was the perfect person to lace up her hiking boots and scout out these four incredible hikes in the Big Bend area. “Head into that harsh-looking landscape,” she writes, “and you’ll discover a world bursting with beautiful life.”

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Rook the cat likes to hike with visitors at Chinati Hot Springs in Far West Texas. credit: Chris LeBlanc

ROCKPORT, PORT ARANSAS and CORPUS CHRISTI: There’s a wealth of opportunity for fun along the Texas Coast, so Mauri Elbel set out to discover three of its charming towns. “The state’s expansive shoreline,” she writes, “is dotted with sweeping dunes, quaint beach towns, coastal cities and sleepy fishing villages.”

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Rockport’s new and improved larger-than-life mascot, the Big Blue Crab. credit: Mauri Elbel

FREDERICKSBURG: Mauri Elbel also popped out to the Hill Country to spotlight Fredericksburg, which offers a refreshing taste of the simple life. “In this part of Texas,” she writes, “rolling hills striped with vineyards and unobstructed horizons graced with spectacular sunsets create a breathtaking backdrop to sip and savor the local flavors.”

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Peach season typical runs from mid-May through the first week of August. Kids will love picking their own at several orchards in and around Fredericksburg. credit: Mauri Elbel

GALVESTON: I always love a good trip to Galveston, but what’s surprised me in recent visits is the variety of free and cheap options it offers. I had a great time checking out everything from taffy pulling demonstrations to sea turtle tours — all of which you can do without spending a dime.

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Visitors to Galveston can take a free self-guided tour of more than two dozen intricate tree sculptures. credit: Kristin Finan

Wherever your spring and summer take you, I hope you get a chance to drive the open roads, hop into a middle-of-nowhere swimming hole and eat some delicious Texas fare. Have a favorite Texas trip you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about it; send me a note at kfinan@statesman.com. Happy travels!

Missing Uber? Here’s a new alternative for airport transportation

If you’ve been searching for an alternative to Uber, Lyft, cabs and car services when it comes to getting to the airport, a new option has just landed in Texas.

As of today, West Coast-based Wingz airport ride service will be available for transportation to and from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport as well as to Dallas’ Love Field, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport and Houston George Bush Intercontinental.

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Wingz, a peer-to-peer airport ride service, launches in Austin and other Texas cities today. credit: Wingz

Here’s how it works: You create an account with Wingz, then select your pickup location and airport and enter all of your flight details. Once you’ve added all relevant details, you’ll receive information on who your driver is going to be and what kind of car they’ll be driving. Like your driver? You can request him or her every time you book.

“Everything is known in advance. We’re pre-scheduled, flat rate, surge free. You know exactly how much it’s going to cost. You know who the driver is going to be. Everything is known upfront,” said Wingz CEO Chris Brandon. “We’re a private car service at a cost that’s less than a taxi.”

When I priced transportation to the airport from Southwest Austin last week, Wingz quoted a cost of $36, compared to $44 with Yellow Cab and $26 with Uber (which has ceased operation in Austin as of this morning).

Learn more at wingz.com.