3 Places to Stay Just Outside of Dallas, TX 

Dallas, the ninth largest city in the United States, is often called the commercial hub of the North Texas region. Featuring a variety of museums, sporting venues, and cultural events, the city is home to a variety of activities that make it a great place to visit for people of all ages. While most travelers to the area plan to stay near the downtown area, venturing out to the smaller towns surrounding the city can provide a unique glimpse into the region and is often more affordable.

Lancaster

Located about 5 miles from Dallas, Lancaster offers visitors the opportunity to see attractions they would probably miss if they stayed in the city. Lancaster’s Commemorative Air Force DFW Wing is a small museum that allows visitors to see, touch, and explore planes from World War II. The museum is open on the weekends and staffed by former military members who provide visitors with intriguing history lessons they won’t soon forget.

Visitors to the area will also enjoy exploring Lancaster’s Bear Creek Nature Park, which is home to a butterfly garden, rock climbing wall, fishing pier, and multiple hiking trails.

Lancaster is a vibrant community that travelers will enjoy exploring. By taking advantage of the hotel accommodations available in Lancaster, visitors will have access to the unique attractions mentioned here as well to the variety of restaurants and shops in the area.

Plano

Situated less than 20 miles from Dallas, Plano features a diverse assortment of attractions that visitors to the area will enjoy. Nature lovers can explore Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve, which features 3.5 miles of concrete trails and 5 miles of soft surface trails. Kayaking and paddle boarding are also available at the preserve, and visitors should check out Go Ape Zip Line and Treetop Adventure for a one-of-a-kind experience that will have them zipping through the forest canopy. The preserve is open from dawn until dusk.

Plano’s Heritage Farmstead Museum is another must-see attraction for travelers to the Dallas area. This living history museum gives visitors a first-hand peek at what life was like on the Texas Blackland Prairies years ago.

Garland

A quick 30-minute drive from Dallas, Garland features several unique attractions, including Hawaiian Falls Garland, a large water park, and Spring Creek Forest Preserve, a natural area that’s perfect for spending a relaxing afternoon outdoors.

Hawaiian Falls features a lazy river, numerous water slides, and a 16,000 square foot wave pool. Kids and adults alike will enjoy spending the day at this thrilling water park. If you’re looking for a more laid-back way to spend the day, Spring Creek Forest Preserve is a city-owned nature preserve featuring short, easy hiking trails that allow you to experience the region’s beautiful scenery.

On your next trip to Dallas, consider staying in one of the nearby towns. You’ll discover new areas to explore and save a little money at the same time. This vibrant part of Texas is sure to provide visitors with memories that’ll last a lifetime.

Image via Flickr by awsheffield

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5 Best Things to Do in Alpharetta With Kids

By guest blogger Eathen Smith, brought to you by the Hotel Planner campaign.

Alpharetta in Fulton County, Georgia, has both the vibrancy of a big city and the down-to-earth, accessible charm of a smaller community. Nestled between the Georgia mountains and the city of Atlanta, it’s well situated to offer exciting yet convenient things to fill any traveler’s visit. Plus with many family-friendly hotels near these activities, Alpharetta just might be the perfect destination for that family trip you’ve been planning to take. Here are some things to do in Alpharetta that the whole family can enjoy together.

Adventure at the Big Creek Greenway

If you’re looking for some outdoor fun, the Big Creek Greenway is a great place for both high activity and relaxing downtime. Bikers will enjoy the off-road mountain bike trails, which are easy for beginners and kids. Big Creek Greenway also offers trails that are well-suited for running and rollerblading. What makes the Greenway such a favorite, though, is that all of these activities are enjoyed in nature. The trail under the tree canopies is followed by a gentle stream and stretches along picnic sites, swamps, and ponds where you can bird watch, feed the fish and ducks, or sit down for a picnic.

Outdoor Movies at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre

The beautifully landscaped Encore Park, which houses the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, is just the place to set up for a family movie night. The amphitheater is one of Northside hospital’s locations to host Movies in the Park, a free outdoor movie

initiative to show family-friendly movies at kid-friendly times. Carry extra layers for the evening chill, load up on snacks, and watch a film at sundown, which is usually around 6:30 to 7 p.m. What’s more, kids get free face-painting inspired by the movie of the day.

Indoor Fun at Main Event Entertainment

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Main Event Entertainment is the “ultimate fun for people of all ages.” With a wide range of activities such as bowling, laser tag, mini-golf, rope climbing, and video games, we don’t see how anybody wouldn’t enjoy themselves. With this indoor play park open from 11 a.m. daily, rainy days don’t have to be spent cooped up in a hotel room with the great escape that is Main Event.

Shopping at the North Point Mall

If you want to get a little shopping in while in Alpharetta but still want to make a day out of it, then the North Point Mall is the perfect place to tow everyone along. Apart from the thrilling shopping options for all, the young ones can enjoy a ride on the North Point Carousel. Catch your meals at any of the numerous restaurants at the Food Court and wind up your trip with a movie at the mall’s theater.

Fun in Nature at the Webb Bridge Park

Webb Bridge Park is a big park with many sections, including a kids’ play zone that has a great variety of playgrounds with swings, slides, music, and even a covered sand area. Older children can play in the soccer and baseball fields while parents walk the serene trail through the forest of about 1.5 miles.

Who said family travel can’t be entertaining for all? With the above favorites and much more, Alpharetta is sure to change any such opinion.

Image via Flickr by atlnature

Generation Y Finds Free WiFi

Internet is free unless you want to pay for it.


I am truly convinced that somehow one day Internet service will be free to all with access to a computer. The thing is, it’s already kind of that way- at least in a city the size of Nashville. A monumental event happened last week when Starbucks officially began advertising free WiFi in their stores. For months I have been mocking them for being so behind the times, as they have been charging by the hour for Internet service when McDonald’s has been offering it for a while now. In fact, Starbucks was the last major (and still relevant) store to join the crowd.

It’s quite symbolic of the direction that Internet is heading. I haven’t paid for Internet the entire 4 ½ years I’ve lived in Nashville. My laptop automatically picks up the nearest open network wherever I am, or wherever I’m driving by and decide to drop in- hotels, coffee shops, restaurants, churches, book stores, even auto repair shops provide Internet for me while I wait on my car. And I have weekly taken advantage of all those places.

Last weekend I went in to Verizon to renew my contract (and more importantly, get a new free phone they always offer for staying with them). I found the phone I wanted- it was small, light, and shaped like a stone. Yet when the salesman came over to help me I learned that the only way I could get that phone would be to get Internet through them for about $30 extra dollars a month. I made the mistake of telling him that eventually Verizon will offer free Internet (so that people will buy more expensive phones that make better use of online capabilities).

The guy actually said this to me in an attempt to make a sell: “Having Internet on your phone makes life so much easier. You may look out the window and see a rain cloud and wonder what the weather is going to be like that day. If you have the Internet on your phone, you can look up the weather forecast and find out.”

Really?! Really. Seems like the word “rain” in the phrase “rain cloud” might have given me a clue…

He wanted to argue with/educate me about technology so I simply replied, “Where are the phones that don’t require me to purchase additional Internet service?” I ended up leaving the store, with my same two-year old phone. The few options that didn’t require Internet were no more advanced than the phone I have now so I’ve decided to hold off on trading in my old one for a new one. It would be ridiculous to pay for what I already can get for free (the Internet) or try use my “free new phone” pass on a phone identical to the one I already have. And since I don’t live with a constant need to Tweet, I will manage just fine.

Surely it says something about access to free Internet use when I have built and maintained this website mainly using the Internet of Borders (where I’m posting this from now) and other coffee shop types of venues. If anyone should have to pay for Internet, it should be me. But I never have.

It just requires diligence, patience, and creativity. I also have never paid for cable- I paid $60 a few years ago for “bunny ears” at Best Buy that give me access to ABC, NBC, and Fox (plus some obscure Canadian channels). That’s how I watch the shows that I do recaps of. As for TV shows I want to see that don’t come on the major networks, I can easily watch them on their network’s website. Of course I am willing to part with $9 a month for Netflix- I began subscribing the month they started offering free instant streaming.

There’s a very thin line between being cheap and being smart. I’m okay with either side of that line.

The Opposite of a Beach Bum

Along with “Check, please!”, “I think it’s time for Plan B”, “That’ll leave a mark!” and “Smooth move, Ex-Lax”, one of my favorite overused quotes from ‘80’s sitcoms is the sigh-infused “I need a vacation…” When my wife and I were planning our honeymoon last year, many people assumed we were flying out to somewhere in the Caribbean Islands. Because that’s the normal American thing to do, understandably. Though we have never been to a sunny beach coast together before, we both were aware that sitting on the sandy shores all day doing nothing would drive us both stir crazy.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Vacationers who relax and vacationers who explore.

And while it’s possible to do both, ultimately a person’s instincts causes them to plan their vacation according to one over the other. The observation is this: People who like to sit and relax while on vacation (often known as “beach bums”) generally go to warmer, sunny locations and stay in hotels. People who like to explore go to less sought after places often with colder temperatures and higher elevations and stay in lodges, cabins, and bed-and-breakfast’s.

In the last two years, my wife and I have traveled to the foggy, cold, rocky coasts of New Zealand, Maine, and Northern California. We are drawn instinctively to places where there are not a lot of other people around and where there is exploring to be done. Always in search of the next perfect, quaint local coffee shop. Or that beautiful scenic drive we can only take in a rental car in a city we’ve never been in before.

And when we can’t go on a week long vacation to a place we can really only get to by plane, we enjoy hanging out in The Highlands of Louisville, KY (an artsy hippy neighborhood with lots of cool, weird ethnic restaurants including Moroccan, Turkish, and Argentine, to name a few), Sevierville, TN (equipped with black bears), and Fort Payne, AL (my hometown that somehow became cool again when I wasn’t looking).

Most people take their vacations in the summer, when it’s hot. As I do. And most people travel to places that are even hotter than where they live. As I don’t. I loathe the depressing England-like climate of American winters, except in the summer when I want to escape to it. I escape to a more isolated city with less people around with no need for AC.

If people go on a summer vacation to escape all the chaos around them, why do they go to a really busy beach where it’s honkin’ hot? Shouldn’t they do the opposite? Shouldn’t they cool off in a quiet, peaceful place? I am the self proclaimed opposite of a beach bum.

New_Zealand_cause_Old_Zealand_sucks

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHL3tBnzWP8