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Travel deals for all seasons

MoneySense | posted Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Fancy half-price hotels and attractions far from the maddening crowd? Savvy vacationers save a packet by taking advantage of shoulder season travel—that wee sweet spot between top-price high season and bone-chilling low season. But playing the shoulder game means finding destinations that combine lower airfares and accommodations plus pleasant weather and things to do. Choose wisely and you’ll wonder why it took so long to discover the easiest route to discount travel. Here’s our guide to the world’s greatest shoulder destinations.

Fall

Europe’s summer is a sweltering mess of jam-packed cities where air-con is a foreign concept. But golden days from late-September through October can be a breath of fresh air. Enjoy the balmy coastlines of Italy, Greece or Spain, or explore some capitals before the autumnal dark days arrive. Europe-bound flights drop to half their summer peak, and if you like driving tours in France or beyond, you’ll find the roads far less thronged.

Late-September is also a smart time for springtime South Africa’s safaris and winery regions. Or consider going tropical in Costa Rica. Around late November, the rainy season recedes and you can ogle the toucans just before the tour groups arrive.

Hot spots include…

Sardinia: Explore sandy coves and foodie-loving villages off Italy’s western coastline. Why now? The Autunno in Barbagia artisanal festival starts in September.

London: Crawl blockbuster museums on a self-guided culture tour. Why now? The Victoria and Albert Museum’s sumptuous Fabric of India exhibition starts October 3.

Cape Town: Weave the delightful Cape Winelands. Why now? Late-September’s Cape Town Fringe Festival.

» Top 10 cheapest U.S. cities to visit

Winter

Our southern neighbour is stuffed with tan-tastic winter destinations. But while Florida and Arizona welcome snowbirds, it’s shoulder time in Texas. California-wise, wait for February if you’re craving better-value hotel rates and airfares for San Diego or San Francisco. Both are mild until later. Also consider Hong Kong or Thailand just before the end of March—the start of the rainy season.

Hot spots include…

Austin: Feast on America’s tastiest food trucks. Why now? January’s Free Week Austin music festival.

San Diego: Explore museum-packed Balboa Park. Why now? February’s Winter Brew Fest.

Hong Kong: Dine in a world-class foodie city. Why now? Hong Kong Arts Festival starts late February.

» How much to tip around the world

Spring

This is Europe’s other—rainier—shoulder. Airfares rise dramatically after a few weeks, so book in April. Fancy a side-trip? Reykjavik isn’t too cold in May as it readies for summer’s visitor peak. It’s similar in Canada. May-to-mid-June is a chance to visit popular destinations like Victoria, the Rockies and Quebec City before the masses arrive: hotels are discounted and the weather is balmy.

Further afield, the post-cherry-blossom-pre-rainy season May window in Japan means Tokyo hotels are keen to bargain. You’ll find similar pre-rain deals in Malaysia and South Korea, and you can also cash in on summer’s end in Australia and New Zealand, with flight deals and sleepover discounts beginning to emerge.

Hot spots include…

Victoria: One of Canada’s earliest springs starts here. Why now? Whale-watching begins.

Napier: Time travel in New Zealand’s finest art deco city. Why now? Tour Hawke’s Bay wineries sans crowds.

Melbourne: Dive into Australia’s artsiest city. Why now? May’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

» The best luggage you’ll ever buy

Summer

Summer offers key ways to avoid credit-card immolation. Labour Day to late September is great for Canada trips. The islands of Aruba and Bonaire are outside the hurricane belt—yet their summer room rates are still the year’s lowest. Or, shimmy south. February’s carnival season is a crowd-puller, but coastal Brazil in July is a quiet zone. Check hotels vying for business in Rio—and expect warm weather with rain.

Hot spots include…

Jasper: September’s sun lights up the mountains. Why now? The VIA train from here to Prince Rupert is a late-summer gem.

Aruba: August is hot. Why now? Restaurant Week in late August.

Rio: Hit the beaches without the crowds. Why now? Late July’s giant Anima Mundi animation festival.

» The best time to book a flight

The antioxidant-rich foods you should be eating now

HELLO! Canada | posted Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Antioxidant-rich foods are easily found in the produce section of your local grocery store, and adding these brightly coloured foods to your diet is a secret weapon for banishing wrinkles and preventing chronic disease. Juicy red tomatoes, crisp orange carrots and more are rich in antioxidants, but it’s important to know which foods are best when it comes to vitamins and minerals.

Nutritional therapist Gabriela Peacock reveals the top vitamins to include in your diet, and which foods are packed with them…

Food-feature

Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are often packed with antioxidants

Vitamin A

This vitamin helps the immune system, as well as the intestinal, respiratory and urinary tracts. For a boost of Vitamin A, include foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes and kale in your diet.

Vitamin C

This helps protect your cells from damage, and improves the absorption of iron which is great for your energy levels. It also helps the immune system to work properly, and can be found in citrus fruits, strawberries and kiwis.

Vitamin E

This vitamin supports the immune system so it can fight infections, prevent blood clots and protect your cells from free radicals. Make sure to get your fix by introducing wholegrains, broccoli, nuts and seeds into your healthy diet.

Antioxidants play a key role in keeping us healthy and banishing wrinkles

Selenium

This essential mineral, when partnered with Vitamin E, provides oxidative protection and helps regulate thyroid function. Usually found in foods including fish and red meat, but if you’re vegetarian you can also get your quota by eating brazil nuts.

Lycopene

This naturally occurring ‘phytonutrient’ gives fruit and vegetables their red colour. Studies show Lycopene reduces the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration. The best lycopene foods include tomatoes, papaya and apricots.

Lutein

This mineral is usually found in green, leafy vegetables. It can reduce the risk of chronic eye disease, lowers the risk of developing cataracts and protects healthy cells. Lutein can be found in kiwi, broccoli, kale and spinach.

Top 5 fitness tips: 5 ways to maximize your workout

LOULOU | posted Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

If you’re going to do it, do it right. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your workout. A big thank you to Nicolas Clanet, personal trainer and kinesiologist at Nautilus Plus, and Sophie Rochon, in-store activities coordinator for MEC Quebec, for the great tips.

Switch up your activities

If you always do the same activity, you’re always using the same muscles. To avoid hitting a major plateau (or risking injury), try to switch up your activities on the regular. This way you can hit all the major fitness zones: cardio, strength training and flexibility. So ditch the running shoes and pick up a yoga mat now and then.

Work in intervals

By working out in intervals of high and low intensity, you can really push yourself at certain points, knowing you’ll have time to recuperate immediately afterwards. You’ll burn more energy for a longer period of time – even after your workout is done (bonus!).

Change the playing field

When you work out on an uneven surface (like an outdoor field), you automatically work more on balance. Psst! The fresh air’s not so bad either!

Seek help

Finding a personal trainer, a kinesiologist or even a community that enjoys the same activity as you do will help you to develop a workout plan that’s tailored to your needs. Sharing info is the best way to learn how to achieve your goals pronto.

Take notes

Keeping a fitness journal helps you track your progress. Take note of all the deets: how much weight you’re lifting, how far you’re running, how many calories you’re burning… Everything counts!

Click here for more tips

The best tips for planting in pots

Cityline | posted Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Spring has sprung and garden season is finally here, however, it isn’t always easy to know which pots, soils, or plants are right for you. Frank Ferragine came by with his best tips to make the start of gardening season a little easier.

Picking the right pot:

Although using multiple smaller pots may look more aesthetically pleasing, they may not always be the best choice for your plants. Using one larger pot for multiple plants can allow for better moisture retention due to the fact that there is a greater amount of soil in the pot to hold on to the water. Because the larger pots hold water for a longer period of time, they can be great for the busy gardener who may miss a day or two of watering. It’s also important to make sure to check the bottom of your pots for holes or a space for drainage. In order for plants to thrive, pots need to have a place where water can drain from the soil to ensure that your plants aren’t sitting in water.

Choosing the right soil:

The pot is just as important as the soil that goes in it! By buying soils that are specific to pots, you can ensure that your plants are getting the proper nutrients as well as the proper amount of space for water and root growth. Potting soil is great because it acts like a sponge to help hold in water. However, it’s important to check your plants soon after you water them. Due to this sponge-like texture, the first watering might let too much water drain to the bottom of the pot. Make sure to check back five minutes later and add more water to the soil if necessary.

Deciding on the right plants:

Certain plants thrive better depending on temperature and location. When buying plants, it is important to look at whether the plant is best in sun or shade, when they can be planted, and how long they will last. In some cases, plants may only be in bloom for a few weeks at a time, while others can last through the hot summer heat. Paying attention to all of these details when purchasing plants can make your gardening experience a lot easier by saving you both time and money.

Check out the video below for more tips from Frank:

How to be a better grocery shopper

Diana Duong | posted Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Learn how to pick the freshest produce and the most fibre-rich grains  —  not to mention the best deals and the shortest lines.

Pick perfect produce

Choose fruit that feels plump and heavy for its size. The skin should be firm and smooth with no tears, soft spots or bruises. Store fruit away from veggies (some fruit produces a gas that can make vegetables spoil).

Know your grains

Whole-grain products give you the benefits of both bran and germ, which are packed with vitamins and minerals. Whole wheat products, on the other hand, have had some of the bran and germ removed, although you still get more fibre from whole wheat than you do from white bread.

Get smarter about calcium

Keep an eye on milk fat (MF) in the dairy aisle. Angela Dufour, a registered dietitian in Bedford, N.S., recommends milk or yogurt with no more than 2 percent MF and cheese with less than 20 per cent. “You’ll save calories and still get the same amount of calcium.” When baking, buy buttermilk — it contains less fat than 2 per cent milk and provides the same texture.

Buy better beans

Dried beans should be uniform, smooth and shiny (when rinsing, pick out any that are discoloured, shrivelled or broken). Canned and dried are equally nutritious, but canned beans contain extra sodium. Rinsing canned chickpeas, lentils and beans for 30 seconds has been shown to reduce the sodium by 40 percent.

Shop strategically

Check flyers to see when the sale week begins and shop closer to the start date, when stock is plentiful. The best time to shop to avoid long lines is weeknights after 8 p.m., when the after-work rush is over and some meats, baked goods and produce with a short shelf life are marked down.

Be adventurous

Shop by the season and live by the flyer, says Dufour. “Instead of stocking up on bananas, why not try the pomegranates on sale? Try a new fruit or veggie each month to add different staples to your diet.”

Our favourite Mother’s Day gift ideas

Suzanne Ellis | posted Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Looking for a special gift to give to your one-and-only mom this Mother’s Day?

We’ve assembled our favourite ideas that won’t break the bank and that your mom is certain to love!

Frame a favourite family photo. In the digital age, it seems we rarely take the time to process photos anymore. But there’s something lovely about a framed photo, and if it’s a well-composed photo of the family — perhaps professionally done, or one taken on vacation — we guarantee your mom will love it. Or, take it a step further and make an album for your mom — photos from a recent trip or a week at the cottage. She’ll love flipping through it and remembering what a great time you had.

A hobby-inspired gift. Does your mom love to garden? Buy her a new pair of gardening gloves, a gardening tool or two, and some seed packets or seedlings. If your mom is active, head to the sporting goods store and pick up an accessory or two based on the sport of her choice. If she loves yoga, buy her a few drop-in classes. If your mom loves to cook, pair a new cookbook with a few fun kitchen accessories. A gift based on something you know she loves to do is thoughtful and will be appreciated.

Give your mom a spa day at home. I’m sure we’d all love to treat our moms to a luxurious spa retreat, but those can be expensive. It’s easy to give your mom a spa day at home – buy some scented bubble bath or bath salts, an individually-packed facial masque, some moisturizer, and a new nail colour for her fingers and/or toes. Bump up the experience with her favourite magazines, herbal tea, and a healthy spa-inspired lunch.

A book or magazine subscription. Reading can be a luxury for the busy mom. So give her a good book or magazine, and, perhaps more importantly, make sure she has some down time that day to turn a few pages. Looking for a good read for Mom? Head on over to our Cityline Book Club for a few suggestions!

A summery tote. Buying a new bag for Mom can be expensive, but with a tote it doesn’t have to be. Totes are endlessly practical, and because they’re often less expensive, you can find one in a bright, summery shade. We love bright oranges, crisp apple greens, and rosy pinks – but you know your mom best. Pick a shade and style you think would appeal to her.

Make your mom breakfast in bed. It’s true that homemade gifts are the best – especially when that homemade gift is breakfast in bed. We’ve got great ideas on how to do breakfast in bed for your mom, including recipe suggestions, right here!

What are you doing for your mom this Mother’s Day! Share your ideas in the comments below!

How to budget for a family vacation

Cityline | posted Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Family vacations are a terrific way to bond with your loved ones — tons of quality time together, and no housework to do! — but  they can be prohibitively expensive.

We asked Bruce Sellery for his advice on how to plan a family vacation that won’t break the bank.

Where do you start?

Bruce likens the family vacation to a home renovation in that everything costs more than you think. Write down all the costs — flights, hotels, rental cars, gas, meals, entertainment, and souvenirs. Once you reach your total, add a buffer of 10% to account for any surprise costs that may arise.

How can you find deals?

Think about what’s important to you and your family — are you keen to try a particular restaurant that you know will be pricey? Look to save in other areas such as the hotel. Hotels and flights cost a lot, so look for package deals online. Consider travelling at off-peak days (Tuesday, Wednesday) and times. Book your flights well in advance for your best chance to score a deal.

Spend on moments/experiences, rather than things.

What are you and your kids going to remember: a vivid fireworks display, or the stuffed animal bought from the gift shop? Moments/experiences tend to outweigh material items in our memories, so make the goal of your family vacation to create memorable experiences that your kids will remember for a lifetime.

How are you going to pay for it?

Don’t wait until the end of your vacation to think about how you’re going to pay for it. Loading up the credit card is not the way to go. As Bruce advises, this needs to be part of the planning process, and ideally the vacation is saved up for and even paid for before you go. Think about trade-offs and discuss them with your family — for example, tell your kids that in exchange for the amazing vacation you’re going to take, you’re not going to have any restaurant meals for a couple of months.

How do you stick to the budget?

It’s challenging, there’s no doubt, to stick to a budget when you’re away and having a great time. Try to succumb giving in to temptation when you’re faced with it, and set realistic expectations with your family in advance. For instance, tell your kids that they’ll each be allowed one souvenir to bring back from the trip. If you have a good sense of your budget going in to the trip, you won’t have to stress about expenses every waking moment. This is supposed to be a vacation for you, too!