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Monthly Archives: November 2016

The 7 Most Visited States in the United States

7. Illinois with 1,442,000 visitors

Illinois makes it onto this almost solely because of the appeal of its largest city, Chicago. Each year 1.378 million international visitors travel to Chicago to discover America’s second city, which is known for its deep-dish pizza, blues bars, sports teams, unique architecture and laid-back attitude. That said, Illinois is losing ground in the tourism race, as its lack of other key-note attractions has caused it to experience a lackluster growth in tourism arrivals – only 3% since 2012.

6. Texas with 1,570,000 visitors

Texas is the only state on this list to move up positions in this year’s rankings, as Texas has surpassed both Illinois and Massachusetts to become the sixth most visited state in the United States. With 1.57 million visitors, Texas received 17% more international visitors in 2013 than it did in 2012, which is one of the largest increases of any state. Houston and Dallas are the state’s most visited cities, the two of which account for 73% of the state’s visitors.

5. Nevada with 2,915,000 visitors

Virtually every visitor to Nevada in 2013 also visited Las Vegas, which is such a huge tourist destination that 2.9 million international visitors is just a drop in the bucket. Once international visitors arrive to Las Vegas they can expect to share the Strip with tons of American tourists, as Las Vegas is the most popular domestic travel destination by a mile.

4. Hawaii with 3,172,000 visitors

Though Hawaii gets a huge amount of domestic visitors, its international visitors pale in comparison to states like California and Florida. Which is not to say that Hawaii’s beaches are lacking in appeal. But the state doesn’t have the urban appeal of Florida or California and its isolated position in the Pacific limits its visitors to mostly Asian travelers.

3. California with 6,472,000 visitors

California is only one of three states to receive more than 5 million overseas visitors. Combined, the three most visited states in America account for an astonishing 73% of all overseas visitors to the United States. So why do visitors come in such huge numbers to California? Well, it’s the state with the best air connections to Asia, it has a host of amazing national parks and its two chief cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have great international reputations.

2. Florida with 7,209,000 visitors

Florida is also holding its position as the second most visited state in America, with 7.2 million visitors in 2013. The numbers make perfect sense when one considers the sheer amount of tourist attractions that can be found in Florida: the beaches and nightclubs of Miami, the amusement parks of Orlando, Disney World and the natural beauty of Key West.

1. New York with 9,804,000 visitors

Like the previous year, New York once again received more international visitors than any other state in 2013 with almost 10 million visitors or 30% of all foreign visitors to the United States. As the numbers exclude any Canadians who might pop down to Buffalo for shopping or to use the airport, New York’s incredible numbers speaks volumes about the ability of New York City to captivate foreign visitors.

Discover Morocco’s Floral Festival

Fruit trees teeter over the trail, laden with figs, dates and oranges. Barley and alfalfa sprout from the orange earth, watered by channels beside the path. Pomegranates dangle from overhanging branches. But the women aren’t here to pick fruit; they’re here to harvest something more fragrant.

‘Can you smell them?’ asks Ait Khouya Aicha, as she pads into a meadow fringed by walnut trees, and heads for a tangle of shrubs. She pulls down a branch: it’s covered by flowers from trunk to tip, shocking pink against the deep-green leaves.

‘These are the roses of the Asif M’Goun River,’ she says, cradling a blossom in her hand. ‘They are famous around the world. But to understand why, you must smell them.’ Pulling on thick gloves, she snips off the flower and breathes in the scent. The perfume is heady and sweet, with notes of honey and treacle.

‘The fragrance is best in the morning, but we must work quickly,’ she says, dropping the flower into a robe gathered around her waist known as a tachtate. ‘The sun will burn the petals, and then the perfume will be ruined.’

Within half an hour, Aicha and her companions have stripped the bushes of blossoms and four sacks have been filled to the brim. They head back to the village, sharing round a bag of dates and nuts for breakfast. Twenty minutes later, they arrive at a backstreet garage that doubles as the village’s rose co-operative, where owner Ahmid Mansouri inspects the blossoms, weighs them on battered scales, and adds them to a heap covering the concrete floor.

‘These are good roses,’ he says, puffing on a crooked roll-up. ‘But last week we were harvesting twice as many. Next week they will be gone. And that means one thing. It is time for the Festival of the Roses to begin.’

No-one is sure how roses first came to this remote corner of Morocco, high in the Atlas Mountains, six hours’ drive southeast of Marrakesh. According to legend, they were carried here centuries ago by a Berber merchant from Damascus; the species that grows here is Rosa damascena, the Damask rose, which originates from ancient Syria and has been celebrated for centuries for its intense perfume.

However they arrived, the M’Goun Valley – or the Vallée des Roses, as it’s known in Morocco – has become famous for its flowers. Every year during the main growing season between April and mid-May, the valley produces between 3000 and 4000 tonnes of wild roses. They’re everywhere: sprouting up from the hedgerows, blooming along stone walls, tangling the borders between farmers’ fields. Each day before dawn, women gather the roses by hand, and sell them to co-operatives dotted along the valley. Some are bought by local distilleries to make rose water, soaps and pot-pourri, but the majority are bought by big French perfume houses, for whom the M’Goun roses command a special cachet.

It’s an intensive – and expensive – business: around four tonnes of fresh petals, or 1.6 million flowers, are required to make a single litre of rose oil, and with each litre fetching around 12,000 euros (£10,000), the rewards are obvious. But with intense competition from other rose-growing areas, especially in Turkey and Bulgaria, the M’Goun Valley needs to find ways to catch the noses of overseas buyers – and that’s where the Festival des Roses comes in.

It’s the day before the festival, and all along the Asif M’Goun, people are preparing for the party. Halfway along the valley lies the village of Hdida, a cluster of terracotta houses framed by crimson peaks and the blue thread of the river. It’s a hive of activity: girls sit cross-legged on the steps, stringing roses into bracelets, necklaces and heart-shaped garlands, while women stick labels onto rose water bottles and pack dried petals into canvas sacks. On the streets, farmers load crates of flowers onto the backs of battered trucks, before puttering off for town with a crack of the exhaust and a cloud of black smoke, waving to children peeking from gateways as they rattle past.

Everyone in the village has a task to do, and Naima Mansouri is no exception. Head shrouded in a pink jellaba, hands traced with henna tattoos, she’s making pot-pourri for the festival. She packs canvas bags with dried petals, tying each one with ribbon and adding a sticker for the village co-op. At the back of the room, petal-filled baskets are piled against the wall, and a copper still glints in the shadows.

here to find the world’s best wi-fi

Dream landmarks with wi-fi

Awesome – you finally made it to your bucket list destination! But the internet has demands: ‘Pics or it didn’t happen’. On top of that, sharing video of your trip as it happens is more popular than ever, thanks to real-time services like Snapchat Live Story and spread to Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status. If you’ve got no service when you’re ready to broadcast, you’re out of luck.

Don’t worry though. These top picks of picturesque architectural wonders have outdoor wi-fi for immediate sharing ­– the Eiffel Towerand Cathédrale Notre Dame in Paris; the Taj Mahal in India; theSydney Opera House in Australia; and Petra, the city carved out of stone in Jordan.

Wi-fi from . . . phone booths

Now that most people use their own phone and wi-fi device, what to with the hundreds of public telephone booths? In New York, public phones have been upgraded with ‘LinkNYC’ tablets for maps, browsing the net, and travel information. Fast free wi-fi will be offered at 7500 converted payphones (‘Links’) across the city, creating the largest network of high-speed hotspots in the world.

Similarly, many of those iconic red telephone boxes in the UK have been converted to phone repair shops and charging stations and will offer (tiny) mobile work spaces to rent, complete with power, a printer and wi-fi. In Australia, wi-fi access at converted phone booths comes at a price and only to certain customers.

World’s highest hookup

Saying ‘Guess where I am?’ live from Mount Everest in Nepal must earn even more bragging rights. If you’re on your way up, you’re in luck – wi-fi being trialled at the base camp of the highest mountain on Earth to share your adventure with the world. Two notable runners up areJapan’s iconic Mt Fuji (which has hotspots dotted around it) and the sacred mountain of Girnar Hill, a well travelled Jain and Hindu pilgrimage site in India that has wi-fi on its walking trails.

Widest wi-fi options

Travel-friendly Japan shares the bandwidth bounty with visitors like no other country, whether you’re zipping on a bullet train, in a club, or crane spotting along an icy ravine. Tokyo has consistently ranked in the top three of many lists for fastest wi-fi cities in the world in recent years. Tokyoites were early adopters of consuming most of their media on mobile devices, and they naturally expect blazing speeds. They have the infrastructure to back it up.

Local trains often provide wi-fi with a quick email signup, and the usual wi-fi suspects are here with cafes, restaurants, thousands of convenience stores, hostels and tourist offices all giving away free access. Prepaid SIM cards for travellers with gigabytes of data are little surprise but having them available at the ubiquitous convenience stores makes for another easy way to get online. If that wasn’t enough, tourists can access free wi-fi from hundreds of thousands of hotspots across the country through two free apps (Travel Japan wi-fi; and Japan Connected free wi-fi) produced by mobile providers.

Battery-powered portables

Tools like the ‘MiFi’ or ‘wi-fi egg’ (for its goose-egg dimensions) are rechargeable-battery operated devices will give you (and your friends) wi-fi wherever you can get a mobile signal. That means internet on your laptop or tablet on a ferry ride, isolated ocean cliffs or remote ryokan(traditional Japanese inn), if you really need it. You can pick up and drop off a wi-fi egg from international airports; and plenty of hosts of sharing economy accommodation, such as AirBnB, provide a wi-fi egg because they don’t have landline internet to offer.

These devices are also increasingly popular in Korea and China, and are now available in France, Canada and the USA. Plans can cover a whole region so, for example, you can rent the one device and never be without wi-fi for a big Europe trip.

The most innovative internet cafes

While internet cafes have edged into obscurity throughout much of the world (other than high-intensity gamer dens), Japan continues to find innovative ways to keep this category going. The country boasts large internet cafes that double as manga libraries where you can peruse the comic library by the hour while drinking unlimited free refreshments.

Another popular use is renting private computer booths to sleep in, lying on thin mats. There are even on-site showers for rent. You have to get in quick on weekends when revellers who miss the last train home crash in an internet booth.

 Posting pics from planes and trains

A growing number of airlines offer free wi-fi on board, letting you plan last minute trip details, and chat to neglected friends. Free wi-fi is on flights by JAL, Emirates, JetBlue, Norwegian, Turkish Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines and Nok Air. Some such as Air China and Qantas only offer wi-fi on domestic flights, and China Air doesn’t allow phones to be used. If you need to continue online, there is a cheeky app, WiFox, that maps wi-fi passwords used in airport lounges around the world.

7 Tips For Tackling Your First Bike Tour

Save the date and start planning

Deciding to go really is the hardest part. Setting the date (and having a rough idea of duration) helps concrete your trip, giving you a deadline to work towards. First-timers should head off during the warmer months and – unless you’re keen to channel Sir Ranulph Fiennes – pick an easy route for the first week or two. Training before your tour helps, but it’s not imperative – you’ll get fit on the road.

Buy the right kit

Invest in the essentials: a good free-standing tent, a decent touring bike, waterproof panniers (bike bags) and a cooking stove. Opt for a sturdy, steel-framed touring bike with steel front and rear racks to hold your panniers. Your bags should be hard-wearing as they’ll carry everything you need such as the tent, stove, sleeping bag and mat, electronics and clothing.

Every gram and inch counts. Opt for lightweight gear and use dry bags to compress your clothes. Resist the urge to overdo it and blow your budget on gear that might not last; real kit gems such as baby wipes, mosquito spray and chlorine tablets often cost virtually nothing.

Plan the right route for you

Wherever you’re planning to cycle, consider ditching main roads as they’re busy and often uninspiring. Countries such as the Netherlandsare renowned for their flat and bike-friendly trails, while thrill-seekers tend to make a beeline for the likes of Tajikistan and Patagonia.

Tap into regional resources and infrastructure such as Europe’s Eurovelo bike routes (eurovelo.org/routes) which offer excellent off-road rides. The USA’s Adventure Cycling Association (adventurecycling.org) and England’s Sustrans network (sustrans.org.uk) print terrific maps with alternative routes and amenity lists.

Avoid unnecessary detours

Once upon a time a wrinkled, dog-eared, hard-copy map was the ultimate bike tour companion. Now, it’s a reliable GPS or navigation app. Opt for a durable and multi-use GPS product designed with adventurers in mind.

Smartphones are also a fantastic option if you’re likely to have regular access to electricity and the internet. You can download maps that don’t just show you the best roads, but the best off-the-beaten-track routes for cycle touring. The Maps.me app is detailed, easy to use and now shows the route elevation on the bike option in most countries.

Create a budget and start saving

Bike tours can cost very little; if you’re willing to live on rice and porridge and wild-camp at every opportunity, then a budget of a few US dollars a day is achievable.

Visas, hotel stays and restaurant visits add up, but if you’re hoping for a happy medium (a lean food budget and plenty of low-cost or free accommodation with occasional splurges) then expect to spend about $15-$20 USD a day depending on the country. Factor in travel insurance and emergency money for bike repairs and kit replacements.

Set your own personal goals

World cyclist Jonathan Kambsgaro-Bennett (jkbsbikeride.com) says the question he gets asked most is how far he pedals in a day. His answer? ‘It depends on the hills, the wind, the road and about a million other things… Especially the wind.’

Setting daily distances can be tough but having a rough idea of what you want (and are able) to achieve will help you plot an itinerary. Many bike tourers average between 60km and 80km per day, depending on conditions, while those just starting out may aim for much less. Besides the weather and quality of the roads, your personal goals should also influence the decisions you make along the way – and will often push you to keep going.

Become a camping pro

Pitching a tent in the wild after a long day in the saddle can be stressful. Fortunately, fatigue often overrides fear – and the more you do it, the easier it gets. Some places welcome wild camping as long as you’re out of sight (Scotland, Iran, Japan) while others forbid it which makes a stealthy camp much tougher (Switzerland, Australia and the USA) – it’s worth being aware of the laws wherever you choose to cycle.

While a nice, secluded, flat piece of turf near a river is the goal, anything can make a fine camp spot and the key to overriding those initial fears is to keep well hidden and off private property, or to simply ask the landowners for permission to camp. Locals are often keen to help – and if you have their blessings, you’ll sleep like a baby. Check out world cyclist Tom Allen’s top tips on how to wild camp.