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Doggie Vacation: Pairing Pooches with Homestays

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MSNBC.com Travel
  |  Valerie Steiger, a life coach in Canyon Country, Calif., had a 4-month-old puppy and tickets for a 10-day trip to Thailand.

Steiger knew that Joey, a cavalier King Charles spaniel-shih tzu mix, would need more attention than what a traditional stop-by-the-house pet sitter could provide, so she went online in search of a good boarding kennel.

Instead she found DogVacay.com.

The site, which officially launched March 1 in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and soon after in other major cities, matches dog owners in need of pet-care services with people willing to host dogs in their homes for a fee. (Photo courtesy of Debra.)

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Finding Top Restaurant Deals with Bitehunter

Bitehunter inventor Gil Harel

Innovator Gil Harel

Who He Is: Though he got his start working in the marketing department of Israel’s Isrotel hotel chain and at Expedia, the 39-year-old Cornell MBA now focuses on the restaurant and bar industry with his new website, Bitehunter.

His Big Idea: The Bitehunter site and its iPhone app scour more than 500 online sources including Gilt City, OpenTable, restaurant.com, and even Twitter to locate the best deals in any given area. It’s a Kayak-style approach for dining deals, which Harel acknowledges as inspiration for his food-focused search engine: “Historically, airlines adopt cutting-edge technology first, followed by hotels, then restaurants.” And as foodie deal services such as Groupon and BlackboardEats continue to proliferate, his simple aggregator is a welcome resource.

Photo courtesy of Hila Harel

Best Apps for Managing Frequent Flyer Miles

air travel mileage tracker

Staying on top of your many mileage, hotel, and rental-car programs is one of the biggest headaches for frequent travelers. Ditto figuring out whether or not you’ve accumulated enough points to book a first-class ticket for your next big getaway. But luckily, online mileage trackers have stepped in to help, letting travelers input their various member ID’s and passwords to conveniently consolidate all of their programs in one place. Besides displaying your latest balances, these services also notify you of all upcoming expiration dates, which is essential for keeping (and amassing more!) points.

Each site has its own edge: MileBlaster is particularly good at tracking your miles and alerting you whenever your points are about to expire, while AwardWallet smartly provides users with a convenient wallet-size card listing all of their loyalty numbers. We like TripIt’s iPhone- and iPad-optimized apps, which let you quickly access your details on the fly.

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Announcing the SMITTYs: T+L's Social Media in Travel & Tourism Awards!

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Let’s face it: social media is taking over. If you’re not at least on Facebook and Twitter, you’re, well, behind on the times. To honor and acknowledge those in the Travel industry who are doing an exceptional job on these new platforms, we’re introducing the first-ever Travel + Leisure Social Media in Travel & Tourism Awards or, as we’ve come to call ‘em, "The SMITTYs." (Clever, right?)

Want to nominate a travel company that's doing something cool? Or has your company launched an innovative/exciting/super-successful social media campaign? If yes, submit one or more nominations for a chance to win one (or more!) of these monumental new awards. Who exactly can enter? We’re looking for submissions from the following:

- Hotels & Resorts
- Cruise Lines
- Airlines
- Airports
- Tour Operators
- Tourism Boards/CVBs
- Travel Agencies/Online Travel Agencies
- Car Rental Agencies
- Attraction

There are three categories you can submit a nomination for:

- Best use of a social media platform.
- Best single social media promotion.
- Best social media promotion of travel deals.

Nominations will be accepted until March 2, 2012, and then the winners will be selected by a panel of social media experts and announced in our July 2012 issue.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s see what you've got!

[Please be sure to read the rules before submitting.]

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Joshua Pramis is the social media editor at Travel + Leisure and resident tech aficionado. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuapramis

New Site Scopes out the Best Hotels for Surfers

Cabo Surf Hotel

Breaking news for surfing enthusiasts: The new website Wavecation.com—think of it as a HomeAway or VRBO tailored to the surfing community—lists hotels, private homes, and other rental options close to ride-worthy waves all over the globe. The most important criteria? The property has to be oceanfront (or front-row, in cases when a jungle or other natural barrier blocks coastal views) to the water and surf spots. “These places are the equivalent of ski-in, ski-out properties on a snow mountain,” says founder Matt Thomson, who has turned down a number of interested homeowners to maintain his super specific standards. The Austin-based resident is surf-obsessed himself. He started riding when he was 12 and has traveled the world—from the coasts of Nicaragua and Mexico to Hawaii and California—in search of the best breaks.

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Have Song, Will Travel: JetBlue's New App Grants Getaways

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Requesting vacation time is not for the faint of heart. Just ask the 57% of working Americans who, according to a recent study, have opted to labor through nearly two weeks’ worth of paid vacation days this year.

Excuses run aplenty, but “being too afraid to ask the boss” takes the cake. In all honesty, how long does it take you to muster up the courage to ask for a week, an extended weekend, an hour away from your desk? (Case in point? It took me a full two months to muster up the courage to request time off, and I work at magazine that encourages travel!) Luckily, JetBlue sympathizes with this very plight.

This season, they’ve developed a fun, creative, interactive, amusing Facebook app that allows employees to pop the question without ever having to step up a meeting. Simply choose the month and amount of days you’d like to request, fill in a few names, decide between four funky themes, and voilà: a mini tailor-made movie that croons your workplace superior until their heart melts and your getaway is as good as on the calendar. (That is, of course, if you’ve the courage to hit “Send.”)

Be sure to check out this little ditty I made for the office.

Lindsey Olander is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy Facebook/Jetblue.

Jean-Marie Hullot’s New Photo Encyclopedia

Innovator Jean-Marie Hullot

Innovator Jean-Marie Hullot

Who He Is: “I am a passionate traveler, a passionate photographer, and a passionate technologist,” says Hullot, a former Apple apps CTO who created software for the first Macintosh computer. After leaving Apple in 2005, he spent two years taking inspiring trips.

His Big Idea: Hullot conceived Fotopedia, which includes an image-driven encyclopedia made from user-submitted photos with minimal text—a visual Wikipedia of sorts. Lately, Fotopedia apps for iPad focused on UNESCO World Heritage sites, Paris, and (most compellingly) North Korea have given the traditional coffee-table book a digital spin. “In most magazines and books, pictures are used to illustrate a story,” Hullot says. On this app, it’s the image that tells the story.

Photo by Françoise Brenckmann

A Luxe Travel Insider Launches New Website

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PR guru/savvy entrepreneur/enthusiastic globetrotter/longtime friend of T+L Melanie Brandman lives a life many would envy, traveling to all corners of the globe for her namesake company’s top-name travel clients.

And having also grown up in Australia and the Middle East, it’s no surprise Melanie’s world view is big—one that’s surely influenced and helped cultivate her good eye (and her good taste). Few know, however, that before her start in the travel industry, she worked as an editor at Vogue Australia.

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Today, Melanie officially returns to her early professional roots with the launch of The Travel Curator. The new website is her little black book of favorite finds from the road. Think of it as the short list or cheat sheet (hotels, restaurants, shops, more) for the world’s top luxury destinations mixed with smart trend coverage.

The first city in the spotlight? Sydney, of course. Melanie tips readers off to everything from a Surry Hills boutique renown for its custom textiles to what she calls “the best food truck in the Southern Hemisphere,” which sells meat pies with all the fixings around the clock. “Believe me, at 2 a.m. it’s just what the doctor ordered.” We do, Melanie!

Next month, travel with Melanie to New York City.

Great Social Travel Websites

Great Travel Social Websites

What’s the best hotel in Aspen? According to Web entrepreneur Travis Katz, it all depends on who you are: a Goldman Sachs banker might want the luxury and cosseting service of the Little Nell, while a 20-year-old yoga instructor on a budget might opt for the more-bang-for-your-buck Limelight Lodge. Earlier this year, Katz, a former MySpace executive, officially launched gogobot.com, a sort of Facebook for travelers that lets you exchange tailored hotel, restaurant, and other destination recommendations with like-minded friends on the site and through other social networks. Gogobot, which creates stylish destination scrapbooks for users by drawing from their manually submitted reviews and FourSquare and Facebook check-ins, is based on the premise that travelers trust their friends’ recommendations over those of guidebooks or online user-generated review sites like TripAdvisor.

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Online Shopping Made Easy

online shopping

The cluttered realm of online shopping is becoming a little more refined thanks to a new breed of websites that deliver the goods with a highly selective approach. By asking tastemakers to step in as guest curators, they give you insider, and often exclusive, access to items from around the world. Ahalife.com allows you to buy one unique item daily from international designers. Whether it’s a cotton pestemal (hammam towel) made by local artisans in Buldan, Turkey, or a hand-beaded, tribal-chic necklace from London-based jeweler Fiona Paxton, everything is chosen by notable travelers such as Daniel Boulud or Petra Nemcova.

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