Archive for November, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving from the Travel Smart Blog!

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

We want to wish you all the very best holiday this season!

Whether you’re flying, driving, or taking the train – be prepared for busy travel hubs and possible delays. Certain areas of the country may be experiencing some severe weather over the next week, so please remember to travel safely!

In order to help you celebrate this fantastic Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends, Hotels.com is offering an amazing promotion…

Stay tuned to find out just how far $1.00 can really go...


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Culinary Tourism: We’re Not Just Talking Turkey!

Monday, November 25th, 2013

©1998  EyeWire, Inc.Thanksgiving is an American Holiday centered on gratitude for food, family and fellowship. But millions of travelers worldwide are finding inspiration and education in celebrating the local food trends, cooking techniques and food history of a destination. And with the ever-growing popularity of food and travel channels featuring shows that feature traveling to places just to enjoy a new food or wine experience, this trend will only get bigger.

According to the recent results of Hotel Price Index from Hotels.com, the food tourism frenzy is expected to intensify into next year and attending a food tour or a cooking class while on location is more than a passing fad and was a travel fan staple in 2013.

If you’re a foodie then you know that where you eat on a trip is as important as the hotels that you stay in. You don’t have to go far to satiate your travel urges and food cravings. In Boston, you can take a Boston Pizza Tour. In Oregon, you can embrace the farm-to-table movement where it first took root. From the Southern food stylings of Charleston, South Carolina to authentic Italian cuisine taught in the kitchen of a Tuscan home, culinary classes give visitors the skills they need to recreate delicious dishes back home and offer an intimate taste and view of the country’s culture through tours of local markets (like the top-rated “A Lot of Thai – Home Cooking Class” in Thailand).

Kneading DoughNo city celebrates the diversity of its culture, history and food as well as New York City. In fact, food tours abound from the burroughs outside Manhattan to the iconic cultural centers of China Town and Little Italy. Heading to NYC soon, try “The Tastes of Chinatown with Dim Sum” offered by New York Food Tours. Chinese-American guides provide real insights into the culture and historical background of this exotic New York neighborhood. Tour groups are kept small and intimate. For the adventurous eater, there is “The Freakiest and Funniest Food Tour” that taste-tests pig feet, jellyfish, duck tongues and beef tendon stew. Talk about bragging rights!

More and more travelers are exploring culture through foods, wines and other edible treats, as much as they are through museums and other notable local attractions. Do you have a favorite food-tastic travel experience? Share it here on Travel Smart Blog!

 

 
 

 

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City of the Month: Where to Stay in Costa Rica

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

TSBCotM
Whether you want to live lavishly at an all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica or rough it in the scenic landscape of the tropical rainforest and beaches, there are accommodations for every traveler’s taste and budget.

0_55844284The most common accommodations in Costa Rica are smaller hotels that are often family-run and full of charm and hospitality. Hotels can be found in the corner of a steamy rainforest to the base of a volcano and beachfront villas. Travelers who really want to be immersed into the culture of Costa Rica and the traditional Tico (local) lifestyle will enjoy staying in one of the country’s eco-hotels.

Hotels.com Recommendations for Hotels in Costa Rica

Eco-hotels sometimes even run on solar power, and these lodging options often cater to people who want to do yoga on the beach, go hiking in the cloud forest or surfing along the coast.

La Palapa Eco Lodge Resort – Portalon

La Palapa Eco Lodge Resort is located in a rainforest, with 149 Acres of land, in the Central Pacific Coast of Portalon in Costa Rica. This resort is considered one for the most beautiful and well kept, and is just right for wildlife lovers.

Borinquen Mountain Resort & Spa

This Guancaste luxury boutique hotel that features private bungalows and villas even features its own hot springs, volcanic mud, and steam rooms. If you want tranquility, this is your spot!

Finca Rosa Blanca

0_73170348If you are looking for a little Costa Rican romance then stay at this organic coffee plantation and luxurious inn near San José. This eco-resort features award-winning restaurants and el Targua Spa. And as for the obvious, the coffee tour is not to be missed at Finca Rosa Blanca is a two-hour journey to coffee connoisseurship and sustainable eco-tourism.

If you want to have everything at your fingertips, an all-inclusive resort might be the best option for you.

Occidental Grand Papagayo Resort – Adults Only-All Inclusive

At this all-inclusive property meals and beverages at onsite restaurants and bars are included in room rates. Taxes and gratuities, recreational activities, and entertainment are included.

Barcelo Langosta Beach – All Inclusive

Located in Northwest Costa Rica in the town of Tamarindo, this all-inclusive resort is fun for the whole family. It’s an ideal spot for sports and nature lovers.

 

 

 
 

 

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City of the Month: Keep Your Head in the Clouds & Your Toes in the Sands of Costa Rica

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

You have big decisions to make when you visit Costa Rica: beach or jungle? Clouds or Volcano? Monkey versus sloth? If time allows, you can just choose them all. Costa Rica is one of the most bio-diverse regions of the world. Take time to immerse yourself in the natural wonders it has to offer.

There are two great hikes through the jungle to gorgeous beaches at the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, located in the Nicoya peninsula of Costa Rica. This national park was the first protected area in the country and has paved the way for Costa Rica’s eco-tourism initiatives.

Most anywhere along the coast, visitors have their pick of yoga studios in town and can go horseback riding on the beach, sail, snorkel or go on a fishing excursion to Tortuga Island. The privately owned Curu National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to see birds and wildlife and it has a lovely, deserted beach.

In Monteverde, take one of the zip-line canopy tours. I recommend the tour in Selvatura Park, which also features other interesting exhibits. It’s here that you’ll explore the rainforests with howler monkeys and macaws. Take the time for the Cloud Forest Tour or the horseback mountain tour. And some say the Extreme Tarzan Swing ($35/each + $15 for the headcam video is one of the craziest things they’ve ever done; up for the challenge?

Manuel Antonio National Park is a small conservation area that manages to encompass both the jungle and pristine beaches. Thousands of wildlife species thrive here. It’s hard to miss the fuzzy sloths hanging from branches, toucans nesting in the treetops and green iguanas basking in the leaves. Capuchin monkeys may even join you on the beaches.

Costa Rica is home to six active volcanoes. This is both intimidating and exciting to me. Arenal is one of the country’s most active and most visited volcanoes. There are Hanging Bridges to cross and Hot Springs that actually surround the volcano and serve every budget and style. It’s easiest to visit from San José so plan accordingly when laying out your route.

What did I miss? Bird watching, kayaking, rivers and lakes, coffee plantations, ATV tours… there’s much to explore in the tiny republic of Costa Rica or you could just grab a good book and head to a hammock on the beach. Which only means one thing: a few good reasons to come back and visit again.

 

 
 

 

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City of the Month: Costa Rica… Yes, It’s a Republic Not a City.

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

TSBCotM

 

 

 

 

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Each month Travel Smart Blog features a city to explore and inspire future travels. This month, I wanted to focus on Costa Rica but choosing just one city was impossible. In fact, the tiny republic of Costa Rica only has a population of 4.6 Million people, which is half the size of New York City, so I figured why not just profile the whole country!

Situated between Nicaragua and Panama on the Central American Isthmus, the country has three distinct regions influenced by their locations: the Pacific coast, the Caribbean and the Central Region.

What used to truly be a place to live like Robinson Crusoe has captivated the imaginations of surfers, yogis and eco-tourists. In fact, Starbucks recently bought nearly 600 acres of land near the Poas Volcano (an easy day-trip from San Jose), to establish a laboratory to experiment with new varieties of coffee. While the road infrastructure is still a bit primitive and can make traveling to some of the areas a bit more challenging, Costa Rica is for adventure seekers, families, couples and those looking to relax. More and more hotels, resorts, yoga and surf camps, and eco-tourism attractions pop up every month making Costa Rica a must-add-destination to your vacation list.

Getting Around
As I referenced above, the roads in Costa Rica are pretty bad and car rentals can be pricey. So believe it or not, cheap flights between cities are often the best way to see the country. Check out this local airline Nature Air. There are currently two international airports in Costa Rica. Juan Santamaria Airport is the oldest and centrally located north of San José. Liberia (LIR) opened two years ago and is the gateway airport to the beaches of the Guanacaste region and the Nicoya Peninsula. Flying into Liberia saves you a 5 hour drive to the beaches.

Climate
Costa Rica’s Central Valley is famous for having some of the best weather in the world, due to its’ mountainous location yet only 9 degrees from the equator. But the difference in the mountains or on the beaches can vary by 20 degrees. Look out for these micro-climates. The high mountain areas (Monteverde, Savegre, Poás Volcano, etc.) can get chilly – pack a light sweater or jacket.

Cities to Visit in Costa Rica

San José
Spend a few days in the capital city of San José and embrace the history and culture of Costa Rica. The introduction of coffee to the Central Valley in the early nineteenth century fueled San José’s prosperity as the city embraced capitalism. San José is like any big city, although relatively casual: stick to long pants (dresses and skirts also work for women). Most visitors spend a day or two here before venturing to the jungles and beaches. Be sure to see the Plaza de la Cultura, the Museos del Banco Central de Costa Rica, and see if you can get tickets for a performance at the Teatro Nacional.

0_109765118Santa Teresa and the Pacific Coast
To the North you’ll find the beach towns of the Nicoya Peninsula in the southwestern part of Guancaste province, which are some of the best surfing spots imaginable. This is why the area is gaining in popularity and experiencing explosive growth. Despite new development, the region’s natural beauty remains intact. None is more beautiful than the beaches of Santa Teresa. But nearby Jaco, Tamarindo, and in the South Dominical beckon to beachgoers for R&R or a surfer’s paradise.

Monteverde and the Central Region
The mountain region of Costa Rica is made up of many small towns including Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio. Monteverde is home to the Cloud Forests. Cloud forests are unique highland forests characterized by 100% humidity. A visit to this region inspires the imagination for all that is natural and sustainable. Be ready for some zip-line fun and spend a day or two at an eco-lodge of which I’ll recommend a few in an upcoming post.

Primary Language: Spanish

Currency: Costa Rican Colon

Capital: San José

Population: 4,695,900+

 

 
 

 

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America’s Newest Holiday: Thankshopping Day!

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

The appeal of Black Friday is at a five year high, with 55% of shoppers saying they’re likely to shop the holiday kickoff event. And 38% told consulting firm Accenture that they plan to shop on Thanksgiving this year, and that of those, 41% said they’ll be out between 6 p.m. on the holiday and 5 a.m. on Black Friday. Perhaps we should just rename the whole event “Thankshopping Day.”

0_117085750I’ll admit it! I’ve gotten into Black Friday shopping and perhaps not for the reason you think. Sure, it started out as a quest for a few great deals but it has become something more. Actually, I like that I can leave my house at 3AM (yes, I know I am missing a ton of deals this year and I may reconsider) and spend a few fun hours alone or perhaps with a friend without feeling guilty about missing out on family time because my kids and husband are sleeping.

If crowds aren’t your thing, a new report from analytics firm ShopperTrak pegs Wednesday, Dec. 4, as the best day to shop with the least amount of store traffic during this year’s holiday season. Not to alarm you but you have one less weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared to last year, which will mean more crowds and fewer shopping days. Online sneak-peak ads for Black Friday are already out. Here are a few tips to help you score big during the new holiday tradition of Thankshopping: holiday shopping steals!

  • Use the Internet to compare prices, not just the Black Friday ads but also retailers’ regular websites. Doing this ahead of time will help you know if the prices are just inflated to make it look like you are getting a deal or to know if it really is a steal.
  • Take the ad with you so that you can find the exact item at the price advertised. In fact, you may want to check the items out at the store ahead of time just to be sure it is something that you actually want to buy and don’t just get caught up in the frenzy.
  • Follow your favorite travel companies on Facebook and Twitter to get access to Black Friday codes that unlock deals and discounts. Monitor tweets tagged #BlackFriday and #CyberMonday. And, sign up for email alerts that could get your coupons for the nation’s shopping holiday.

Top 3 Black Friday Shopping Cities

  1. 1.     New York City
  2. 2.     Houston, TX
  3. 3.     Minneapolis, MN

How many hotel rooms could you book for the cost of an item from Hotels.com’s Christmas Shopping Basket? Keep checking back on Hotels.com for special holiday promotions.

Will you be taking part in Thankshopping this year? If so, what’s your plan for shopping success?

 
 

 

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College Football Rivalry Week!

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

The long Thanksgiving weekend is most sports fans’ favorite holiday time with NFL football games, the NBA season underway and the exciting Rivalry Weekend of NCAA college football. If you’ve been riding the college football roller coaster this season then you know that Rivalry Weekend takes intensity to a fever pitch that divides colleagues, friends, families and even spouses.

Detail of a FootballTraveling for college football is full of tradition and revelry. It’s a different experience than cheering for an NFL team, because it’s more than just a game. There are the college towns, the bands, the students and alumni, the history and the future that make attending a rivalry week matchup something special. In fact, as much as airports prepare for holiday travel, many regional US airports prepare each fall weekend to transport the players and fans of college football.

The recent success of the University of Alabama’s football program has led Alabama’s Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) to roll out the crimson carpet. In fact, during last year’s national championship game, the airport added 27 additional flights to its flight schedule. Last year, the airport even brought in musicians to play for passengers while they waited to depart for the title game.

  • Many airlines offer last minute football fares that get fans in before kick-off and home that night or the next day. Follow your favorite airlines on Facebook and Twitter to scout any available deals.
  • Hotel rooms in a college town can often be harder to come by than the tickets. Hotels.com shows you the distance to a location so you can judge just how far from the stadium or the college town you will be.
  • While going to the game is ideal, simply being present for the college tailgate is worthy of the trip.

Rivalries Worth the Travel
If you’ve been meaning to travel to a college football game to see what all the hype is about, there probably is not a better weekend than Rivalry Weekend. And even though this season has thrown some perennial stand-outs a few shocking losses, these typical in-state rivalries are as contentious as they are packed with tradition, honor, and a whole lot of fun. Here are a few of the leading match-ups this year.

The Bayou Classic: Southern vs. Grambling
This Louisiana rivalry is so big that it is the first and only black college football game to get prime-time, major network coverage every year on Thanksgiving weekend. This season has been somewhat disastrous for Grambling. Hopefully both teams show up for the game but more importantly, hope they don’t leave the brands behind as these two coordinated groups often steal the show. The Bayou Classic — Southern University vs. Grambling State – Nov. 30 at 2:30pm on NBC.

Royalty Free stockSouth Carolina vs. Clemson
In Columbia this year, #8 Clemson heads to its in-state rival #11 The University of South Carolina. Under the “Old Ball Coach” Steve Spurrier, this game between the Gamecocks and the Tigers has taken on added importance on Rivalry Weekend, which means added intensity and competition between the two schools who are equally matched for the first time in a long time.

Florida vs. Florida State
This was THE rivalry of college football throughout the 80s and 90s, which often decided who went to the national championship. During Rivalry Weekend, the #2 FSU Seminoles head to the Swamp to take on the unranked Florida Gators. It is still among college footballs best rivalries, and will determine which team has in-state supremacy for another year.

The Civil War: Oregon vs. Oregon State
First played in the rain in 1894, this rivalry is anything but civil. Like FSU-UF, this game has emerged in recent decades to capture the American imagination. #6 Oregon has won the last five meet-ups, let’s see what Rivalry Weekend 2013 has in store.

What is your favorite college football rivalry? Have you ever been to the game to experience it first hand? Tell us about it here on TSB!

 

 

 
 

 

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Family Obligation or Vacation? Try an Oblication!

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Stressed TravelerMany of you will be taking that obligatory family vacation over the holidays. And even though you’ll be taking your hard-earned time off of work, it doesn’t always feel like a vacation when you are going to visit your brother, in-laws, or attending a wedding or a family reunion across the state or across the country. It’s called an Oblication (Get it? Obligation + Vacation); and in fact, most of us can admit to traveling in the name of “duty” over “desire”. But the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

On the contrary! It’s entirely possible to make a mini-vacation out of almost any type of travel, whether that’s a family visit, wedding weekend, work trip, or even over Thanksgiving: the most popular holiday for an Oblication. Look for opportunities to combine obligation and leisure travel. For example, a family reunion in Chicago is an ideal set-up for a getaway whether you stay a few extra days to tour the Windy City or to visit Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (about 75 miles away). When we visit our families in Florida each year, we try to take time for some added excitement at the amusement parks of Orlando.

Tips That Will Have You Looking Forward to Your Next Oblication!

Get a Tour: What a better way to spend time with family and friends than in exploring their city or nearby attractions. You might be surprised what you’ll discover, so ask relatives to give you a tour. I enjoy playing tour guide to family and friends visiting with us in Colorado. I even take it as a challenge to show repeat visitors something new each time they come to town.

Leave Time for Off-the-Map Adventures. If you’re driving to an obligation like a wedding or family visit, allow yourself the time to enjoy the sights along the way. There are some great road trip travel apps that can help guide you to these roadside wonders. Plus, you may just end up with a good story to tell the in-laws.

Royalty Free stockAnd because so many of you will be traveling later this month, here are a few Holiday Travel Do’s and Don’ts to remember.

Extend Your Trip. If you have more than a few extra hours to spare then add a day or two to the beginning or end of your trip and visit a place you’d really like to see before you go home. Doing this will help you feel like you did get something special out of your trip, something just for you. TSB Insider Tip: booking multiple one-way tickets is often less expensive than booking one multi-city airfare when you are traveling to more than one destination.

Pack your patience. Anytime you are traveling and a larger group is involved, whether a holiday or if you’re attending someone else’s special event, things are automatically more complicated. Accept that schedules will be delayed or changed; some people may disagree. The travel tips in a recent post Travel Sticky Situation: Vacation with the In-laws are tailor-made for oblications!

What about you? Do you feel like most of your travel is devoted to obligation trips? Do you try to turn some of those trips into potential leisure getaways? What, in your opinion, are the advantages and disadvantages in doing so?

 

 

 

 
 

 

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Are You Ready? Holiday Travel Do’s and Don’ts

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Halloween may be over but there’s another scary scene upon us, the holiday travel season! Shriek! Yes, traveling over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years to visit with family and friends is often a blessing and a curse. Staying on par with the resurgence of travel confidence demonstrated this year; the 2013 holiday travel season is forecasted to be the busiest and most expensive in five years. So, here are a few things you need to know if you are planning to travel for the holidays.

0_219004The Flying Frenzy: The Truth About Airlines at the Holidays

The best time to buy lower fare tickets has long since passed (for holiday travel specifically). In fact, the leading airfare booking sites are already reporting that prices are up significantly over last year’s holiday fares, as much as 17% into popular destinations such as New York City, San Francisco and Orlando. And, airports are expecting record traffic this Thanksgiving.

So, here are my big holiday flying tips:

  1. If you see a flight that you want, don’t wait for a deal, book it! Last minute deals between now and New Years will be just like your Halloween candy…gone. And soon all the seats will be, too.
  2. Travel on actual holiday days is always more affordable than the one or two days before. The most expensive days to fly: the Sundays before Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
  3. Watch your connections! Weather this time of year can wreak havoc for travelers trying to get to grandmother’s house for some pumpkin pie. The best time to avoid weather delays and missed connections is traveling in the morning before flights get backed up or cancelled. Give yourself enough time between connections to avoid missing your flights, especially if you are flying in and out of airports in Chicago, Atlanta, or New York.

Is Your Family Sitting Together?

Airlines are increasingly charging extra to pick a seat when travelers buy their tickets. But you don’t have to pay extra for that. Just make sure you check in online as soon as you can to try to secure seats together. Airlines do and will separate families, even with small children. During this busy time when planes are full, switching seats will be a challenge. Check now so you know what effort you may need to make. You can even try to call the airline to see if there is any “seat shifting” that they may be able to help you with once you’ve booked your ticket. Otherwise, arrive to the gate early and make your request to the Gate Agent, and don’t be afraid to ask another passenger to trade with you so that you can sit with your children. When I have been in this situation, I have purchased a drink for the passenger who was willing to switch with my family member. Just let the flight attendant know and they can tell the helpful traveler of your thankful gesture.

Reserve Your Parking Spot NOW

Reserve your airport parking spot ahead of time. You can count on airport parking lots to be full this year, too. You’d hate to miss your flight because you couldn’t find a place to park. Many companies such as Parking Spot, Wally Park and Park Ride Fly USA take reservations and even offer premium valet services in cities across the US.

Family Driving to Hockey PracticeFor the Holiday Road Warriors

Next week, AAA should give its forecast for the actual number of travelers taking to the road for Thanksgiving. What we already know is that 90% of travelers will drive to their destination over Thanksgiving with the busiest travel day being the day-before Thanksgiving. Want to avoid long lines at the pump or on the roads? Plan ahead. Fill up the tank a day or two ahead, if possible. If you can make it to Aunt Irma’s house in four hours on most days, plan for six or seven. Tack on some extra time so you aren’t late for the festivities. And know alternate routes along the way in case you run into accidents or heavy back-ups. You can save time and your sanity with a little preparation.

Save Big with Off-Airport Car Rentals

Do you have to rent a car from an airport location? No! If you rent a car from an off-airport location you will save significantly over the holidays; as much as 50% savings even on premium rentals. Some off-airport locations offer shuttle service from the airport. I recently did some checking for car rentals in Denver over Christmas and New Years and was able to save family members over $1,000 simply by finding an off-airport car rental location.

Do You Really Need to Take That?

Whether you are traveling for two days or ten, scrutinize the items going into your suitcase. Those traveling for a quick trip may be able to get away with a carry-on only. Even if you check a suitcase, be sure to pack your essentials in a small carry-on, in case of delays (or dare I say it) or your bag gets lost. A change of clothes, power cords, medicines, important numbers, should all be in your carry-on bag.

Most airlines now charge for checked baggage and some even charge for carry-ons. Southwest and JetBlue are the last two major carriers that still offer free checked bags and carry-ons. Southwest even allows a second checked bag free of charge. United, American and Delta all offer free carry-on, so try to keep clothes to a minimum.

Hotels at the Holidays

Hotels in major holiday cities are equally busy and pricey this time year. But, you can save big if you don’t mind staying just outside these cities. For example, you can save big on a trip to NYC if you are willing to stay just 15 minutes away from Manhattan in Brooklyn. Also, keep checking the Hotels.com Deals page for last minute hotel deals in cities across the US. Thanksgiving Hotel Deals are currently featured on the site.

Happy Holidays! And remember: preparation is key! Check-in for your flight online, allow lots of time to get to the airport, to go through security and to board the plane. Pack your snacks, a few good manners AND YOUR PATIENCE. Lines will be long, traffic will be heavy, but this is what holiday folklore is all about!

Safe travels!

 

 

 
 

 

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Hotels.com International Taxi Survey

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

The results of the annual Hotels.com Taxi Survey are in, and London’s taxis have come in first place for the third year in a row!

Representing the U.S.; New York City and Las Vegas came in 2nd and 8th respectively. However, New York’s recognizable yellow taxis grabbed the top spot when it came to availability, and will likely maintain this ranking in the coming years due to the introduction of thousands of new green-colored taxis for more widespread access to New York City’s boroughs.

Check out the infographic & rankings for more fun facts about taxis around the world!

hotels.com_taxi_infographic_US-1

The world-wide rankings of the best taxi cab cities -
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And here are the categories listed by order of importance -

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 Do you agree or disagree? Who do you think deserves the top spot? Let us know in the comments below!

 
 

 

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