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How to up the spontaneity quotient on your next trip

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Nothing against relaxing on beachfront daybeds or doing the cathedral-monument-museum circuit, but for travellers like me (and, I’m guessing, like some of you) the ideal vacation is one that combines relaxation and sightseeing with unexpected finds down narrow streets, lively conversations with surprising locals and wrong exits leading to hidden treasures.

Alas, such experiences are not sold online. It takes good fortune to stumble across the Montana farm stand with the juiciest peaches imaginable, a Swedish farmer who invites you to his Beatles-loving friend’s home for music and whiskey, or the Albanian seaside restaurant owner who dares you to come back at 6 a.m. to fish for the next day’s catch.

For some adventurous travellers, the ideal vacation is one that combines relaxation and sightseeing with unexpected finds down narrow streets, lively conversations with surprising locals and wrong exits leading to hidden treasures.
For some adventurous travellers, the ideal vacation is one that combines relaxation and sightseeing with unexpected finds down narrow streets, lively conversations with surprising locals and wrong exits leading to hidden treasures.  (PETER ARKLE / The New York Times)

Those are my serendipity-aided stories and you can’t have them, but it’s easy enough to create your own. Serendipity is essentially a synonym for good luck, but it’s hardly random. “The harder you work, the luckier you get,” golfers like to say. Good news for globe-trotters: No need to put in hours at the tourism range to lower your travel handicap. A few largely effortless adjustments can up your serendipity game.

Visit ‘em where they ain’t

You can’t force a local to chat, as I’ve found out on many an uncomfortable bus ride. But you can stack the odds in your favour by visiting countries, regions or cities where you don’t have to. My top travel axiom: The fewer visitors a place gets, the more eager locals are to talk with them. To put it another way, you’re unlikely to befriend a Parisian who lives a block from the Eiffel Tower. (Unless he’s got skin in the tourism game: souvenir sellers worldwide are more than happy to be chummy.)

Where crowds are sparse, or at least not Venice-level oppressive, locals are often just as curious about visitors as visitors are of them. So wherever you’re itching to go, consider alternatives that may not be as flashy but have just as much to offer, minus the crowds. Sardinia over Tuscany; Kuélap, Peru, over Machu Picchu; Algeria over Morocco.

You can apply the same principle within a popular destination. As a New Yorker, I instinctively flee from sidewalk-clogging clumps of tourists in midtown Manhattan. But across the East River in my culinarily blessed neighbourhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, it’s a different story. When I recently spotted a youth group from the Midwest gawking at the South Asian shops and food stands on 74th Street, I practically pounced on them. Where are you all from? Why are you here? Where are you going next? How may I help?

Practice deliberate spontaneity

“My vacation days are so precious. I can’t risk something going wrong, so I plan everything”: This is a common lament of the annual-vacation-starved adult.

Planning is crucial, I agree. But a tightly scheduled day does not preclude spontaneity. Consider your itinerary a rough draft, ready for modification if something piques your interest. I once abandoned a day trip to the Turkish city of Sanliurfa when I realized I was driving through pistachio orchards to get there and decided to turn off the highway and spend the day in a village seeking a farm tour. It worked.

You hardly need to risk a day, though. Imagine you’re off to lunch at a fancy place that got raves in your guidebook when, on the way there, you pass a spot humming with locals. Time to ditch your plans. Even if the chef at the new place is not Michelin-starred (or perhaps not even a chef), sometimes a simple meal you don’t know is coming is better than a fancy meal for which you have sky-high expectations.

Another strategy: For every five days of your trip, set aside one for planned spontaneity. In the city? Bury your phone in your backpack and explore a neighbourhood blind or with a paper map, asking for advice along the way. In the country? Take a drive down a local road and stop whenever you see something interesting: a high school baseball game, a yak farm, a bait shop. (Don’t fish? Then ask for directions.)

Be on a mission

To give some structure to your adventuring, come up with a nonserious goal that will add an element of fun and nudge you off the tourist trail. Make it your mission to find the best bookstore in town, try every brand of local candy or search for the weirdest ice cream flavours. In England, declare that by the end of your trip everyone in the group must choose a Premiere League soccer team to root for when you get home. Locals will surely lobby for their club. In northeast Portugal I vowed to learn a few words of the local language, Mirandese. People were delighted to teach me — although, I imagine, not nearly so much as the English would be to talk about why their football team is superior.

Say “yes”

Sometimes an opportunity for a detour or a change of plans will arise that you (or your travel companions) might think is silly or a little nerve-wracking.

Should we turn down that side street just to see what’s there? Should we get off at a random subway stop and explore? Stop off at a supermarket to see what kinds of cereal they have? Attend that local community potluck we saw a flyer for? The answers are yes, yes, yes and yes. What do you have to lose if it goes well? The second museum or third monument of the day? And what if it doesn’t? You’ll be set back 15 minutes? There’s really only one good reason to say no to an idea: if it would put you in physical danger.

Despite what you learned as a kid, “yes” is also the answer to: Should you talk to strangers? (At least when culturally appropriate.) I sometimes like to set a goal — to talk to five random people a day, for example. Then I ask any dumb question that comes to mind. At a restaurant in Naples, I asked the Italian family at the table next to mine how their fritti misti appetizer was. They gave me the rest of the plate. I asked a fellow customer in a South Dakota gas station if there was any difference between the pot of coffee she was pouring and the one she wasn’t. It was fresher, she said. I doubt it was and didn’t care anyway, but she turned out to be a fun Estonian exchange student with great stories of her journeys across America.

Seek community

Great things also happen when your family or friends or friends of friends live in your destination. So seek out your Hungarian third cousins and the Vietnamese college roommate of your high school prom date for a meal or tea or some advice. No connections? Search for clubs or groups or professional organizations in your areas of interest. Surgeons may seek to tour a local hospital; journalists a newsroom; police officers a precinct. There’s no harm in trying. It just takes a quick search for accountants heading to Barbados to find an email for the ICAB (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados, a real organization). The worst thing that could happen is nothing. Maybe you’ll score some great tips on beaches or night-life or even make a friend. You don’t have to actually want to learn anything from the BSC (Barcelona Sweater Club, a made-up organization). You’re just looking for a way to make a connection.

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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