The good news is that summer is almost here. The bad news is that planning your next summer vacation is expected to be a highly stressful activity, for many Americans as well as you.

According to a recent article by the Harvard Business Review, research indicates that a poorly planned vacation diminishes the positive effects that the vacation is supposed to have on your pleasure and recreation. While this news is disheartening, there are ways to plan your away time more effectively, and reduce the stress related to the planning process.

The tactics are simple. All that’s require is a little bit of recent technology.

The “resident” experience

Traveling is great, but feeling like a tourist with a fanny pack is not. To make the most out of your next big vacation, you should become as local as possible.

One recently developed application that can help you do this is called Spotted by Locals. It provides travelers with “city guides” created by residents that contain tips and recommendations for visiting the best and most unique spots in the area.

City guides can be downloaded to a computer or accessed through a mobile device. They’re an excellent tool for getting the most out of a visit without feeling like you’re sticking out like a sore thumb.

Tick-tock goes the clock

So let’s say you’ve found a destination where you can feel like a city local. Unfortunately, being able to discern the hours of operation for places you plan to visit can be truly difficult.

To address this problem, resources such as Hours Map can give travelers a better travel experience. Users can view locations in the area and obtain their opening and closing times.

When users find themselves in a particular neighborhood, they can instantly learn which places are currently open and which are closed. Finding a food joint or shopping outlet has never been easier.

Finding flights and accommodations

Having to book a hotel, car, and flight separately can drain your wallet and your patience. An easy way to streamline these tasks is to use an online booking service.

Online booking services are changing the way the public approaches travel. Now travelers can get more economical prices, easily find a hotel in the area, and even book a car at the same time.

This is only one example of an excellent service that goes a long way toward accommodating travelers’ needs by making the planning process far less stressful.

Worry-free flying

Lastly, more airlines are launching their own mobile apps. Travelers can keep track of flight times and delays, pull up boarding passes, and more through air applications.

This makes the travel experience much easier, because travelers have easy access to all they need to ensure a smooth flight.

Your vacation is meant to be relaxing and stress-free. With the above innovations in travel technology, more travelers are able to reach that goal. If you’re about to design your next vacation, it may be time to update your trip planning process for the best experience.



You know caffeine in excess isn’t good for you, but you might be surprised to learn just how dependent you are on it. Maybe you’re not one of those people who posts coffee in the morning memes on Facebook every day; maybe you don’t know your Starbucks barista by name.

You might not have a Keurig on your kitchen counter, and if pressed, you might insist that your tea habit is so much better than coffee. But you still might have a problem.

Understanding the level of impact caffeine has on your body might give you the boost you need to cut down … or eliminate it for good. There’s more to it than just being addictive and disturbing your sleep patterns.

For those who think they might be ready to get off caffeine, start with the following few steps. Some approaches may work for you, others may not, but it’s all about sticking with it and finding the best technique for you.

1. Set a feasible goal

If you know you can’t go straight from four cups of coffee in the morning to zero, don’t set that as your immediate goal. Wean yourself off in a challenging yet feasible way.

Maybe you substitute decaf for one of those four cups over the first two weeks, then two cups, and so on. You either know your level of addiction or you’ll find out quickly enough and can adjust your goals.

2. Start reading labels

You’ll be surprised just how much caffeine can be packed into non-coffee items. Becoming a label reader is great for your health in general, and not just when considering your caffeine intake.

If you love the taste of diet soda, there are many alternatives that are caffeine- (and aspartame-) free, such as Diet Rite or Stevia-based sodas.

3. Prepare for the side effects

You might experience fatigue, muscle cramping, mood swings, or serious headaches when you cut down on a serious coffee habit. This is what happens when your body goes through withdrawal.

Anticipate this challenge by having a plan of action in place beforehand, such as a natural painkiller. You might indulge in acupuncture or massage sessions to help you get by.

4. Rally the troops

Your family and friends can be great motivators and will help keep you accountable. Share your goals with them, and you might even get other people on board. There’s power in numbers, and going through the change together can be a great inspiration to make it work.

Most importantly, it’s easier to keep the end result in mind. If you’re struggling to lose weight, knowing that caffeine can help keep the weight on might be the push you need.

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organic skin care

Many people agree that it’s crucial to care for your insides by eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water each day. However, in the last few decades, there’s been a movement within the beauty industry to utilize what Mother Nature provides us to care for and groom our surfaces.

All around us are the ingredients that could finally rid us of the jars and bottles filled with mysterious chemicals that line our bathroom cabinets and fill our pocketbooks.

There are two main approaches to going natural with your skin-care regimen. You could research the brand-name cosmetic and skin care companies that have committed to using all-natural and organic ingredients; or, if you’re looking to save some money and have a little creative fun, you could follow some simple recipes and create your own products.

Organic vs. natural

There are a limited number of cosmetic companies that are willing to eliminate all chemical filler, but many are committed to using either organic ingredients, or a mix of natural and organic ingredients.

But what is the difference between “natural” and “organic”? The difference is minor, but important to grasp. Natural ingredients denote any plant, mineral, or animal byproduct, while the term “organic” actually refers to how the ingredients were cultivated: typically without the use of pesticides, growth hormones, chemical fertilizers, or antibiotics.

Therefore, all “organic” products also qualify as “natural” products.

Brands that promote natural and organic ingredients

Allwomenstalk.com has listed some well-known brands that do not use unnecessary parabens, additives, or chemicals. Many of these companies, such as Sephora, Bare Minerals, and Origins, are committed to using natural components and getting close to becoming truly organic.

To achieve this, all the cleaning and conditioning ingredients must be made from organic materials that are manufactured using an ecological process that’s gentle for the environment. The skin-care lines associated with those brands utilize all-natural emollients to condition and soften skin and minimize wrinkles.

One of the better organic lines to try is InstaNatural. According to beautybrite.com, InstaNatural Vitamin C Serum lives up to the hype it receives on the Internet.

Made completely with natural ingredients and reasonably priced, Insta Natural Vitamin C Serum requires only one to two drops a day, rubbed into your face and neck, to brighten your complexion with its natural moisture benefits.

Create your own natural and organic products

If you prefer to create your own products, scrubbingupnaturally.com has several do-it-yourself ideas for creating your own natural and organic beauty products. For example, if you want all the goodness of a vitamin C serum, and you have an artistic streak, you will find a useful recipe for “orange essential oil” on the site.

Outside of oils, the blog also features links to step-by-step instructions for creating homemade creams, scrubs, and even candles. The blog not only stresses the known benefits of vitamin C, but also those of coffee, almonds, and honey for exfoliating and moisturizing skin.

Some of the potential products benefit facial skin only, while others are better for hair and full body well-being.


When Paul Walker was tragically killed in a car crash last fall, filming for Fast & Furious 7 hadn’t been completed. But the late actor’s brothers, Caleb and Cody, were asked to step up and fill Walker’s shoes.

“The ‘Fast & Furious’ saga is about family,” noted the official announcement. “We have resumed shooting and now welcome Paul’s brothers, Caleb and Cody, into our Fast Family. (They) are helping us complete some remaining action for their brother and fill in small gaps left in production.”

The team said that having the two men on set “made us all feel that Paul is with us, too.” Walker likely died instantly in the fiery crash on November 30, 2013, at 40 years of age. To be released in April 2015, the new movie will be the final installment of the Fast series.

“It will allow the character of Brian O’Conner to live on and let us celebrate Paul in his most defining role …. [W]e wanted to take a moment and speak to our fans directly and thank you for the love and support you always show us as we resume work,” read the announcement.

The silver lining

The (thus far) six-film franchise looked like it would suffer greatly when Walker died because he’s been a leading character since the very first film. Production stopped after Walker’s death to give everyone time to grieve, but there another important detail to take address.

How could production move forward without one of the two main characters? Chris Morgan, screenwriter for the series, started massive re-writes in December 2013. No one else could guess what Walker’s character would face.

There were also murmurs that Walker had tied up numerous scenes prior to his death. It was unclear how much of that footage could be used.

The official Facebook statement says: “We are just under a year away from the release of ‘Fast & Furious 7,’ and this film is the most important we’ve ever done together.”

The grand finale

While it hasn’t officially been stated that this will be the last feature in the franchise, many would regard it as poor taste to produce any more in the series. Many believe that the reception of the final installment will provide a sense of how to move forward.

Some have even suggested that Walker’s brothers might be able to continue in the business. Much like the finishing touch on a home or the final dab of paint on a masterpiece, a grand finale requires a clear decision about when enough is enough.



By their nature, trends come and go, but 2014 is already boasting a bevy of them that you can safely side step. Just keep one rule in mind when you wander into fashion territory: If you simply must join a trend, wear it with confidence and buy it from Forever 21 so you don’t spend more than $30 on it.

Consider yourself warned, because everyone makes a fashion flub now and then, but if you want to save yourself from embarrassing photos down the line, you’ll do well to avoid the most likely and biggest flops.

First, there’s the extreme platform wedge that has had several incarnations from sneakers (the worst) to simply un-walkable creations. Women love wedges because they see them as a heel/flat hybrid when actually they’re the worst of both worlds.

If you want to rock a wedge, consider a class espadrilla, but don’t expect the same sex appeal as a heel. Plus, if your wedges are too high to stride on, don’t you lose that comfort factor you were promised?

Abandon ship

According to some fashionistas, peplums need to die already. They had their moment in the spotlight, and they can certainly work wonders for creating curves, plumpness, hips, and butt for women in need.

But how many women actually want to add extra padding to their mid-section? If you’re a svelte runway model, then by all means rock the peplum. For everyone else, that extra fabric isn’t actually concealing muffin tops.

Then there are the donut buns, hot buns, sock buns, or whatever else you want to call them. These overly stylized approaches never look natural and are best reserved for flight attendants.

Pushed as the ultimate professional up-do for everyone from top-rated surgeons who need to keep their hair in check to line-order chefs, it’s really just a bagel head effect on the back of your head. A little messy up-do is much more chic, especially when paired with red lips and minimal makeup otherwise.

What to ditch

“Punny” shirts also had their moment, and it was about the time Old School was in theaters. You might love a great joke, but you don’t need to share it with the world by having it stitched across your chest. The days of “juicy butts” are over, too, so nix the text all together.

Finally, the art of the nail is returning to simplicity, so you can skip the extra $10 to bling out your manicure. Choose a “squoval” shape for natural nails with a warm, neutral tone or a classic red instead. Your future self will thank you.


Giving your brain a workout was easy when you were in school, which you may have been from the age of three through your late teen years and possibly into adulthood. You were constantly challenged, the reading requirements were tough, and there was always a test to prepare for. BrainWorkout

However, as an adult, you do probably don’t do similar things every day. Even if you have a challenging job, it’s nowhere near as demanding as school was for your brain.

But there’s a fix for that. You simply have to do workouts for your mind, just like your body. Whether you’re a gym rat or not, you know the importance of regular workouts for your body. Exercise helps your heart, muscles, joints, bones, and stress levels.

But your brain may be getting ignored, and reading a magazine while on the elliptical doesn’t count. If you want to work out your brain, you’re going to have to take an active approach.

Easy brain workout hacks

One of the easiest ways to get your mind going is to sign up for a class that challenges you intellectually, whether it’s at a community college, in an online course (if you’ll stick to it), or at a community center. This provides accountability and the kind of structure you used to experience in a learning environment.

As a full-fledged adult, you’re in total control of the classes you take. If that kind of approach doesn’t work for you, try swapping out a daily activity (such as a TV show you always watch but don’t particularly like) for a mind challenge, whether it’s a board game with the family like Boggle, Sudoku, or a crossword.

Games are often brain workouts in disguise, so make the most of them.

Make a schedule

It’s easy to want to veg out when you’re home from a hard day of work, but people who prioritize exercise are less inclined to skip their gym schedule. The same has to be true of your brain workout.

It takes 30 days to form a habit, so in just one month you should be on the fast track to keeping your brain healthy. And nobody said multi-tasking was against the rules.

Take something you already love, such as cooking, and boost the required brain power. Charge yourself with trying to memorize a recipe and not depending on always looking it up, or play “Chopped” yourself with limited ingredients.

Your brain is hungry for a workout, so indulge it daily.


Driving is one of the most dangerous activities that you can partake in on a regular basis. The U.S. Census department records an average of 10 million motor vehicle accidents annually, so that chances that you’ll be involved in an accident directly or as a bystander are fairly high. Every driver should have an emergency kit in their car by default, but there are many extra supplies that most of us don’t think of. Here are some other tools you should definitely include in your driving emergency kit.


The visibility of a stalled car is extremely important, especially if a car is stopped in high-speed areas like the freeway. Your risk increases if you aren’t able to move the vehicle to the shoulder of the highway, or if your emergency lights aren’t working. When something goes wrong with your car or another driver’s car, flares can help notify drivers in advance that a car is stalled. Park the car safely and put on the emergency blinkers, if possible. If it is safe to get out of the car, then place a lit flare in front of the car and behind the car. If the car is stuck in the middle of traffic, then do not exit the car. Use a phone to call for help instead.

Blanket and Warm Clothing

If you live in an area with cold weather, then your environment can become a risk to your health, especially if your car breaks down. A blanket and warm clothing can help you and your passengers stay warm while you’re waiting for help. These items should always be packed away with your emergency gear.


Automobile emergencies and accidents can lead to long wait times. This increases the risk of dehydration, especially if you and your passengers are waiting in an overheated car or outside in the sun. Pack extra water to sip on during unexpected delays.

One Way CPR Air Valve

During an automobile emergency, you or your passengers may need to perform immediate CPR on someone who is not breathing. However, performing CPR can expose you to dangerous pathogens. A one-way valve can prevent air and fluids form the victim from putting you at risk.

Be proactive about driving emergencies by packing your car with supplies. Your kit should be tailored to the particular needs of your environment. These supplies can come in handy when something unexpected happens, and your emergency kit can even save lives.



It’s simple: You just follow your doctor’s instructions, right? Actually, getting ready for surgery requires more than following a list of steps because you also need to prepare mentally, emotionally, and maybe even spiritually.

Surgery always entails risk, even if you have the best team of doctors armed with the most modern technology on your side. But with the right prep work on your part, you’ll be in your best possible state going into the OR, which could improve your recovery time.

Before going under the knife, make sure you’ve carefully researched your surgeon and medical facility. You should have a rapport with your doctor, no matter what type of procedure you’re facing.

If you don’t feel 100 percent comfortable talking to the surgeon about the process, why should you trust him or her with such an important procedure? Don’t allow price to be a factor in your decision, read as many reviews as possible, see before and after photos if possible, and always check the doctor’s legal history for any malpractice lawsuits.

Getting ready emotionally and mentally

Stress can accomplish incredible things, both good and bad. It’s best to go into any surgery as rested and mentally prepared as possible.

This usually means taking care of any work that you can beforehand, whether it’s at the office or ensuring that babysitting is covered. Planning a quicker recovery than recommended and “powering through” isn’t a wise idea.

If possible, and if your surgery is solidly scheduled, work ahead and take care of any tasks such as bills to be paid so you can focus squarely on recovery.

This is also a time to talk in depth with family, friends, loved ones, and possibly even a therapist about any concerns you may have. Even if the surgery has a high success rate, it’s normal to feel some trepidation.

Talking it out can do wonders and even spur your healing process. If you go into surgery with bottled up concerns, you’re setting yourself up for a longer and more challenging recovery.

Getting ready physically

Your doctor will explain the steps you need to take prior to surgery, but eating healthy and exercising can also constitute excellent preparation. Your body is a machine and it needs the right fuel in order to work at optimal levels.

It’s a huge mistake to slack off on your exercise regimen or healthy eating habits with the excuse that you’ll be “stuck in bed anyway” fairly soon.

Finally, if you’re a spiritual or religious person, now’s the time to turn to your faith for a little extra support. Consult with a spiritual guide if you like; spend some time in reflection, and ask people to send positive vibes your way.

A strong and positive spiritual state will set the tone for a better recovery.


Whether you’re for vaccines or against them (à la Jenny McCarthy), you’ll be able to find plenty of data to back you up your position.

That’s not good enough for Shannon Duffy, however. She’s one mom who’s on a mission to spread the word of pro-vaccination. Her daughter, Abby Peterson, was almost six years old in 2001 when she got chicken pox and subsequently died of pneumonia.


Doctors say she was simply too small and too young to be able to battle two such serious infections at once. Both diseases are preventable if the person has been vaccinated.

However, Duffy claims that her pediatrician warned against vaccinations. The mother and daughter lived in a small town in rural Minnesota, and Duffy didn’t think twice about taking the advice of Abby’s doctor.

She says, “I asked for them (vaccinations) and my doctor talked me out of it. He said vaccines were too new and recommended I expose my children to diseases instead because he felt they could build up their immunity naturally.” Now of course she wishes she had sought a second opinion.

A mother’s mission

It wasn’t revealed until post-autopsy that Abby was actually born with no spleen, which is a crucial part of the body’s immune system. She didn’t stand much of a chance without vaccinations, says Duffy.

Germs and viruses are tough enough to combat as it is, but without a spleen Abby was even more vulnerable. Over the past 12 years, Duffy has had one goal: To pass a law that requires childhood immunization throughout the state of Minnesota. She’s spoken to the legislature and tried to work with the anti-vaccination parents.

She’s perhaps the best person to bridge the gap between the two camps, having been on the opposite side herself. Understanding that the fear of autism and other alleged vaccination side effects make parents wary, she says, “Not vaccinating is not taking full medical care of your child.”

Duffy is certain that had her daughter been vaccinated, she’d be alive today.

Taking responsibility

Just like a proper parent wouldn’t deny his or her child a warm home in the winter, or bar a kid from getting a good education, Duffy sees vaccinations in the same positive light. Fortunately for her mission, the majority of health-care facilities in her state agree with Duffy.

Nationally, major organizations and agencies such as the US Centers for Disease Control have encouraged vaccinations for years. However, opinions remain strong on both sides of the controversy. Duffy still has a long road ahead of her.


Tax season (round one) just came to a close, but before you start complaining about how little you got back or how much you had to pay, consider the stressful lives of the rich and famous. pro athletes

For pro athletes, just like anyone else, how much you pay in taxes depends on how much you make. However, the average sum paid by the top players is $1 million apiece in taxes every year. Fields of Green, a project of USA Today, undertook the daunting task of figuring out just how much the likes of Tiger Woods pay each year.

Check out the totals

According to the Fields of Green report, members of the NBA, MLB, and NFL pay, altogether, about $3 billion in taxes each year, if their 2013 returns are to be believed.

For comparison, consider that the IRS took in $2.5 trillion in total income taxes for 2013. It’s estimated that total salaries for pro athletes are around $9 billion.

Of course, the majority of pro athletes fall into the highest tax bracket, which means they’re required to pony up 39.6 percent of their income. They get an additional 0.9 percent tacked on to help out with the Affordable Care Act, but their average deductions (such as all those travel expenses) only cut their total percentage to about 33 percent.

How accurate is this figure?

How accurate is any figure that has the IRS involved, no matter which side of the table you’re on? Of course there are some cream-of-the-crop athletes who really make the most of those endorsements, and they’re probably paying more than a million each.

There are those with the best CPAs who get every possible deduction and are probably paying a bit less. Plus, once you add state taxes to the mix, things get more complicated.

States such as Texas and Florida, which have no state income tax, are the places to be, and that’s a key recruiting point. That’s probably the reason Tiger Woods “moved” to Florida from California, since California is notorious for high state taxes.

Even Phil Mickelson has joked that taxes could make him leave California. You may not feel too bad for them, but no matter how much or little you make, you have to have some empathy for Americans who are required to shell out more than 40 percent of what they make to Uncle Sam.

Maybe celebrities and athletes aren’t so different from regular folks after all. Usually, teams only withhold 25 percent of checks for taxes, so if athletes aren’t on top of things, they might be scrambling come April, like the rest of us.

Taxes might also be a reason why so many athletes are cleaning up their online image, compliments of great but costly advertising, so they can score an endorsement to help them with those heavy dues.


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