Five Fab Ski Resorts – USI Affinity

Five Fabulous Resorts for Snow Skiing

Whistler Gondola ViewIt’s time to start thinking about those cold weather, snowy, destinations for winter outdoor fun. Many people want to hit the slopes as soon as the conditions are right, and are eager to repeat the experience well into the last days of the winter season. With so many ski resorts to choose from, why limit yourself to just one?

We’ve gathered 5 fantastic ski towns and resorts just in time for Opening Day. We’ll have you ending 2015 on the right foot and starting 2016 down the right slope (pun intended)! 

1) Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is a skier’s paradise. Notorious for steep terrain and gorgeous scenery, it’s no wonder that it’s home to many of the world’s best freeskiers. Located in Teton Village, Wyoming, just south of the Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole is known for some of the most hair-raising slopes in America where extremists go to play. The ski area receives an average of 450 inches of snowfall each year and boasts a vertical of more than 4,000 feet.

The resort may be known for having extreme terrain, but there are plenty of options for beginners and intermediates. Jackson Hole also has spectacular views of the Tetons and the surrounding valley, and is consistently ranked as one of the best ski resorts in North America.

2) Whistler, BC

Within British Columbia’s glacial climate and scenic beauty resides Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Peak. With 8,171 acres of accessible terrain and 37 lifts, Whistler has the longest continuous lift system on the globe – Peak 2 Peak Gondola – which connects skiers and riders to the two sites.

Holding the title of North America’s largest ski resort, these two mountains offer more than 200 marked trails that include back country, wide-open glaciers, powder-filled bowls, secluded glades and perfectly kept trails. Freestylers will find six terrain parks that accommodate beginners to elite athletes, including a 22’ superpipe. Typically Whistler averages 462 inches of snowfall each year. Mountain lovers from around the globe will enjoy this resort and there truly is something for everyone with 200 shops, award-winning restaurants, nightlife and an endless collection of activities for all ages.

3) Vail, Colorado

World renowned and known for providing guests with an experience that truly is “Like nothing on
Earth,” Vail is home to seven legendary peaks spanning seven miles across the backside of the resort. The ski area is enormous, with over 5,289 acres to explore and four distinct base areas connected by free buses and heated walkways. (Yes, we said heated walkways.)

The resort has great terrain options, state-of-the-art-ski schools, and a large assortment of shopping and dining options. The two main base areas are Vail Village and Lionshead. Vail Village is located at the base of Gondola One and is the original base area. Lionshead Village, located just west of Vail Village is serviced by its own gondola and is home to luxury resorts such as the Arrabelle and Ritz Carlton. Whether you’re planning a romantic winter getaway, a family ski session, or in town for business, Vail Ski Resort will wow you in every way possible.

4) Telluride, Colorado

Any avid skier knows that Telluride Ski Resort boasts some of the steepest, deepest and most diverse terrain of any ski resort in North America. Olympian Gus Kenworthy, a Telluride local, will back that statement.

Stashed in the southwest corner of Colorado, 100 miles from the nearest stoplight, Telluride is home to more than 2,000 acres of lift-accessible terrain. “To-Hell-You-Ride” is a famous quote from Telluride’s mining town days, but today is known for a modern European-style town and iconic destination ski area. Averaging more than 300 inches of snow annually to match its 300 days of sunshine each year, Telluride can certainly be put on your bucket list.

5) Snowbird, Utah

Snowbird Ski Resort is nestled in Little Cottonwood Canyon in the heart of the Wasatch-Cache National Forrest, approximately one mile down the road from Alta Ski Resort. A powder lover’s dream, Snowbird rounds out our top 5 and for good reason with over five hundred inches falling annually. Utah’s famous ultra-light dry powder piles up high on Snowbird’s terrain that is steep, but adventurous and fun. The resort boasts the longest ski season in Utah making it a very popular destination. Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort is home to many activities besides skiing and snowboarding. During the summer months, visitors will find gorgeous hikes, mountain bike trails and streams full of fish for fly fishing. Many families love this resort for that exact reason – the year-round activities that it provides.

And did you know...

...the United States alone is home to more than 450 ski resorts?  If a resort you have been researching didn’t make our fab 5, we highly recommend www.onthesnow.com as an additional resource. This is a fantastic website to explore for snow reports, resort reviews, news, forums, webcams, and live weather updates.


Tips for Traveling Solo – USI Affinity

Tips For Traveling on Your Own

Solo Travel

If you have the heart of an independent explorer, traveling alone is a fulfilling way to see the world on your terms. You can travel at your own pace, partake in activities that interest you, eat when and where you please, and you never have to negotiate with a partner on the common accompanied travel dilemmas such as “Well, I want to see this Museum,” when museums bore you and you would rather take in the sights and sounds of strolling through a city’s park.

Of course, there are cons to traveling alone: It can be more expensive, you don’t have a built-in sightseeing or dining companion, and no one to help you figure out a Plan B if something goes awry. Splitting costs when traveling can be huge as groceries, taxis, storage lockers, and room costs can add up.

The experience of solo travel is intensely personal. It’s a once in a lifetime experience to discover more about yourself while at the same time discovering more about where you are visiting. It’s essentially a gift from you to you. If you are considering traveling solo, keep these tips in mind before and during your journey-they’ll help you have a safer, happier solo trip.

Important Details

It’s important when traveling solo to always equip a family member or friend with your contact information, places you’ll be staying, and other important details about your trip. If you’re planning a backpacking trip and planning your itinerary as you go, it’s smart to equip a person whom you’re close with all relevant information ahead of time. This ensures you have a backup if something goes wrong as well as providing peace of mind to your loved ones. If you know you will be in areas where cell service will be limited, periodically check in on social media platforms such as Facebook. A social media update, even if it’s private and only viewable to your friends, will ease a lot of minds and keep you from having to send multiple emails and texts. 

Back Up Documentation

Making copies of your passport, social security card, and other important paperwork could be a true life saver if for some reason you lose your ID. It will be much easier to get a replacement passport or new train ticket if you already have necessary proof of identity on hand. Before you leave, make copies of all necessary documents (passport, driver’s license, airline ticket, visa, etc.) and scan them to your laptop, tablet, or other electronic device, then email the set to a friend or family member for safekeeping.

Study your Destination

Be aware of safety concerns as well as of local customs and etiquette, especially with regard to dress. When in doubt, opt for conservative. Women travelers should know in advance if harassment is an issue — and both men and women should get the safety lowdown on public transportation. Talk to locals about neighborhoods to avoid, especially after dark. Know the local number to call for emergencies.

Stash Your Money, C.C.’s, and Passport Separately

Never keep large amounts of money on you. Keep some money and credit cards in your wallet or purse, and additional money and cards in a pocket or money pouch. When sightseeing, carry only a copy of your passport's data page, keeping your passport locked in your hotel safe. (It's also good to leave a copy of the data page with someone at home.) On travel days, carry your passport separately from your money and credit cards.

Ensure Your Accommodations Are Safe & Be Aware of Surroundings

Keeping your door locked may seem like common sense but another tip when booking your accommodations is to try to snag a room close to where the action is — near the concierge desk, say, or near elevators. Stay away from ground floors where window entry is possible. Don't answer the door if you're not expecting anyone. Traveling alone doesn't mean always having to be on the edge but don't let yourself get distracted by sights and sounds (or recording every moment on camera) that you let your guard down. To sum up, being aware of your surroundings in one statement: Don't leave common sense at home.

Staying Healthy

Some may have the mentality that “It won’t happen to me,” and it may not, but if you’re jet setting all over the world you are encountering thousands upon thousands of people. It’s important to strengthen your immune system before your trip. You can do this by taking a pro-biotic or supplements. Packing hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes with at least 50% alcohol will also help clear any immediate germs you may come in contact with. If you will be at airports, train stations, and other public spaces here are some of the main tips to keep you healthy while away:

1) Wear socks through airport security
2) Stay at least six feet away from anyone who is coughing, sneezing, or simply appears to look sick
3) Prep your seating area by disinfecting the tray table, armrests, headphones, digital screens, and windows.
4) Point the overhead air vent down (if you’re on a plane) so the current flows vertically in front of your face. This helps divert potentially infectious droplets away from you.

Solo travel is incredibly rewarding, but prior to venturing out alone you really should take into consideration the above tips. Many of these instances are for precautionary reasons but are vital to your safety and overall well-being. Like the famous saying goes, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”


Smoky Mountain Vacation Guide – USI Affinity

Fall is one of the best times to visit a National Park.

With the cool, crisp air and the beautiful foliage which the eye can see for over 100 miles, it’s no wonder it’s considered a “peak season.” Recently, our own traveling Mattie Little packed her bags again and headed to America’s most visited National Park, The Great Smoky Mountains. Mattie’s journey will highlight where to stay, what to do, where to eat, and most importantly, where to head to see the best views that Mother Nature has to offer during fall. 

Mattie visited the Gatlinburg, Tennessee area October 15th-18th with her husband. This is a prime time to visit as most of the Smoky Mountain area’s colors are beginning to fully peak. If you’re looking for 100% fall foliage, the best times to visit are the last three weeks of October. You won’t regret visiting during this time either, as the weather is typically perfect. During Mattie’s visit, the highs were in the 50’s and 60’s, with full sunshine, which made for optimal viewing, especially when climbing high elevations. 

Getting There

Traveling to the Smoky Mountain area from Ohio was an easy, beautiful drive – just a little over 6 hours. Many choose to drive versus fly because the views are definitely road trip worthy and memorable. If you do choose to fly from wherever you live, flying into Knoxville will usually be your best bet as the Smoky Mountain, Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area is only about an hour away. 

Where To Stay

Although there are many convenient and nice places to stay in the area of the Smoky Mountains, Mattie and her husband chose the true Smoky Mountain experience, staying in a secluded cabin located at the base of Mt. Leconte. The cabins are booked through Elk Springs Resort in Gatlinburg. Elk Spring’s offers 1-6 bedroom cabins and their website is a great example of seeing online what appears to be breath-taking and arriving and seeing that the actual images online do not do justice—in person is even more beautiful. Their cabin was immaculate!

With a full updated and modern kitchen, four fireplaces, a pool table, huge flat screen TV, surround sound, luxury bathroom, and oh, a hot tub, there were beautiful views that you could witness through the floor to ceiling windows/deck. If you want to experience the rustic charm of the Smokies, but have the modern amenities – Elk Springs Resort offers just that. Lastly, Mattie’s cabin was located 8 miles off the resort property for an even more secluded, off the grid weekend getaway.


What To Do

The number of activities in the Gatlinburg area are endless. Although Mattie and her husband only had 3 days, they definitely experienced the best drive, the best views, the best restaurants, and the typical fun touristy downtown parkway. To start with, you can’t visit Gatlinburg and not head to the main drag. The main drag features shopping, restaurants, attractions, and the oh-so fun moonshine distilleries. Definitely wear comfortable shoes, as you could walk for days! One of the highlights was visiting the store “Branded.” If you’re looking for a new pair of cowboy boots, or unique apparel, Branded is the place to go with rows upon rows of cowboy boots. Yes, boots were purchased and worn that evening for a touch of true southern charm. A good mid-day pit stop is visiting Davy Crockett’s Tennessee Whiskey. The aroma alone is enough to attract you in the doors and once in, it’s hard to leave. You can sample 11 different moonshines and the staff is hilarious and knowledgeable, making the experience that much more enjoyable.


If you can handle heights, head to Ober Gatlinburg. Ober Gatlinburg offers the Aerial Tramway which departs every 20 minutes. The views from the cable car are unreal. The guide makes it informative as they point out different mountains, homes, and they remind you exactly how high you are. If you do not like heights, close your eyes and ears! Once arriving at the top of the mountain, in Ober Gatlinburg you can experience ice skating, shopping, dining, a wildlife encounter, and the brand new Ski Mountain Coaster which covers 3,750 feet through the mountains. If you go during October, you can also experience Oktoberfest at Ober Gatlinburg. Need we say more?


Where To Eat

With so many restaurants to choose from in the area, it can overwhelming. Although Mattie and her husband were able to prepare many of their meals right from their cabin, they did enjoy lunch and dinner in Gatlinburg. A great spot for a low-key lunch is Tom & Earls Back Alley Grill. Not only is the food great, but the atmosphere is fun and relaxed. From sandwiches (they highly recommend the pulled pork,) to fresh salads, wings, and soup, Tom & Earls is the place to rest your feet and fill your belly so you can get right back to shopping, visiting attractions, or sippin’ on some good ole smoky mountain moonshine. A great, affordable dinner spot is the Alamo Steakhouse. This restaurant has fantastic reviews for a reason. The Alamo grinds their own burgers, and all soups, salads, sauces, and gravies are made to order. Because of this, it does take a little extra time to get your food but in the end you can see and taste the freshness.

Other great restaurants in the area include: The Park Grill, Smoky Mountain Brewery, No Way Jose’s Mexican Cantina, Calhoun’s, and Crockett’s Breakfast Camp.

Where to Hike

Mattie and her husband dedicated an entire day to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. During this time of year, it’s best to wake up early and beat some of the afternoon crowds. A drive from Gatlinburg to Clingmans Dome is an absolute must. There aren’t enough words to describe the beauty from every curve as your drive continues to climb in elevation. Luckily, there are several pull off areas for you to get out of your vehicle to take pictures and to simply take in the views. The passenger really has the upper hand in being able to stare out the window the entire time and spot hidden streams that a lot of times are home to bears and other wildlife. Once arriving at Clingmans Dome, you are at the highest point in Tennessee, and the second highest point east of the Mississippi. The climb to the top is steep but anyone can make the trek. On a clear day you can see for over 100 miles and luckily, it was a clear day for Mattie. At 6,643 feet above sea level most people tend to forget there will be a temperature change. It can go from being 59°F to 38°F in a matter of minutes. So, keep that in mind!



Other great hikes for spectacular views not only in the fall but year round include:
Alum Cave Trail
Appalachian Trail
Andrews Bald
Abrams Falls


It’s easy to see why the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding area is America’s most visited. With so many things to do for couples, families, or even solo – it’s hard to list everything, which is why visiting should be considered if you are looking for a national park to visit, especially in the fall! You will not be disappointed. We hope you enjoyed reading Mattie’s latest adventure and her recommendations for all things Smoky Mountains.




Best Halloween Parties in the U.S. – USI Affinity

The 10 Best Halloween Celebrations in the US


Halloween’s emergence as a cultural mainstay is a testament to the fun, freewheeling spirit of theholiday. Across the country, cities celebrate the ghost season with festivals where you’ll find remarkablecostumes, haunted tours, and spooky rituals.

In spirit of the spookiest time of the year, we have gathered the 10 best Halloween celebrations in theU.S.!

1) West Hollywood Carnaval

Talk about a celebration-over 500,000 people fill Santa Monica Boulevard each year on October 31st forthe world’s largest Halloween street party. The neighborhood bursts with creative one-of-a-kindcostumes, six stages with over 50 music acts provide ambiances as attendees march along the boulevard, trendy bars and clubs offer a variety of contests, drink and food specials, and mostimportantly the evening leads up to the popular “Queen of the Carnaval.” The Queen of the Carnaval iscrowned every year and previous Queens include Rihanna, Queen Latifah, and Lisa Vanderpump.Admission is free to this world-famous event too!

2) New Orleans

Known as the most haunted city in America, New Orleans goes all out for its Halloween celebrations andis laden with guided haunted tours that bring only the bravest of souls. The main event is centralized inthe Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, within walking distance from the French Quarter’s more risquéholiday showcase. New Orleans’ has an open container law that heighten’s the party atmosphere, asbooze flow freely from the many stations and stalls. The opportunity to be alongside the outlandishly-fashioned partygoers makes for a most memorable Halloween.

3) Greenwich Village Halloween Parade-New York

Party + parade, this massive Halloween event shuts down over a mile of 6th Avenue in LowerManhattan. With over 2 million annual visitors, 50,000 of which are in costume, the Greenwich VillageHalloween Parade is the largest Halloween celebration in the world. Hundreds of bands, dancers, circusperformers and floats cut a path through Greenwich Village for what is America’s only nighttimeHalloween parade.

4) Universal Studios Horror Nights

Most of us relate Universal Studios in Orlando as family-friendly, but you might want to leave the kidsbehind for this one as this celebration is not for the faint of heart. The haunted houses and costumedcharacters are legitimately frightening. This year, attractions include zombies from The Walking Dead, anAlice Cooper-themed haunted house and scenes and characters from Silent Hill. Running now throughNovember 1st, this Halloween event puts you right into some of the most pulse-pounding moments youwill ever come across.

5) The Queen Mary's Dark Harbor

All aboard … if you dare! Often said to be the most haunted place in the world, the cruiseliner QueenMary, docked off Long Beach, CA, is one of the scariest and most festive places to celebrate Halloween.The experience at Dark Harbor is quite unpredictable. Visitors venture through 6 mazes haunted bymore than 200 monsters and ghosts, many of which are inspired by the actual spirits that haunt theship. The experience runs throughout the month of October, and includes live entertainment, food and beverages.

6) Knott's Scary Farm

Brace yourself for some serious farm-raised horror. Every year, Knott’s Berry Farm theme park in BuenaPark, CA, transforms itself into “160 acres of horror.” The slogan here is “Walk in, Freak Out,” and that’sno joke. With more than 1,000 monsters, 13 mazes and 4 scare zones you may need to bring your Hallscough drops-your voice is bound to need it from all the screaming. This year promises to up the scareeven more with Trapped, an all-new, interactive maze that allows 6 visitors through at a time, with onecatch-there’s no escape.

7) Las Vegas Halloween

Are you surprised the Strip made an appearance on our top 10? Las Vegas has never managed to doanything small, and its Halloween festivities are not different. Along the Strip, the hotel complexes vie for top thrills as thousands come to the city for Halloween weekend. Despite the world-class list ofnightclubs, restaurants, and bars, the best way to enjoy a Vegas Halloween is free, as a stroll down theStrip brings you face-to-face with the world’s most inventive and elaborate costumes. For a Las Vegasfright experience, head to Circus Circus, where the Adventuredome theme park transforms into FrightDome, with six haunted houses, including Insanitarium, a shuttered insane asylum where the surgeon of slaughter will pursue you to terrifying ends.

8) Festival Of The Dead

Historic Salem, Massachusetts is ingrained in the minds of anyone who’s ever touched an Americanhistory textbook. 500,000 visitors each October take over the town for the Annual Psychic Fair andWitchcraft Expo which runs daily each October and is the most opportune way to interact with psychics,mediums, crystal balls, and more. The festivities all culminate in the heralded Salem Witches’ HalloweenBall at Hawthorne Hotel, where hundreds gather to “summon the spirits” of Halloween.

9) Emma Crawford Festival

Just outside of Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs is a small town of 5,200 people and home to naturalmineral springs. Those springs, once believed to have healing powers, attracted pianist Emma Crawfordin 1889 in an attempt to cure her tuberculosis. Dying two years later in 1891, Crawford insisted on beingburied at the summit of Red Mountain. Since 1995, the town has memorialized Emma Crawford with theannual Emma Crawford Festival the weekend prior to Halloween. The zany affair hosts coffin races,where impersonators of Crawford ride in wheeled caskets while being pushed by four “mourners.” Ifyou’re looking for new ways to exercise this fall, casket pushing might be your new favorite workout.

10) Halsted

Chicago’s Northalsted neighborhood is celebrating its 19th year of Halloween on Halsted festivities. Allare welcome to participate in the annual parade that floods the streets, though you must register towalk. A costume competition divides participants into five categories: pet costume, drag, scariest, mostoriginal, and best group. Fire twirlers, stilt walkers, marching bands, and Dorothy from The Wizard of Ozare staples of the homegrown parade. The .7-mile stretch of city blocks covers a predominantly LGBT-friendly area of restaurants, bars, and clubs that all pick up when the parade ends with door-bustingspecials.


Quick Guide to Airbnb – USI Affinity

The Quick Guide To Airbnb


Have you heard of Airbnb? It’s ok if you haven’t. We are here to help break down the latest trend in travel. Whether it’s an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 34,000 cities and 190 countries.

Based in San Francisco, California Airbnb is a trusted marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world.

Let’s now dive in a little deeper so you can understand the process of Airbnb.


Many people wonder if Airbnb is safe. To allow your mind to be at rest, Airbnb verifies personal profiles and listings, maintains a smart messaging system so hosts and guests can communicate with certainty, and manages a trusted platform to collect and transfer payments. To put hosts and travelers at ease, Airbnb offers a Verified ID service and public reviews. Having a Verified ID indicates that you've completed a specific set of verifications—offline ID, online ID, profile photo, email address, and phone number.

Hosts and guests also build trust and cultivate their reputations by writing reviews about their experiences after each trip. Airbnb’s messaging system ensures that communication between hosts and guests stays protected on Airbnb, so your contact information remains private until you have a confirmed reservation. For your peace of mind, there are also reporting features so you can easily notify Airbnb if you ever feel uncomfortable.


Airbnb’s payment system supports many currencies and several types of payment and payout methods. They collect guest payments from the moment they make a reservation and wait until 24 hours after arrival before releasing funds to the host. This way, guests and hosts can feel confident knowing that Airbnb will process and deliver payments when a reservation is honored.


Whether you’re traveling or hosting, Airbnb offers exceptional customer service before, during, and after your experience. You will never be left with questions or concerns unanswered. For the most common questions about Airbnb, check out the Help Center which hosts a variety of FAQ’s. 

Travel & Book

Airbnb offers an easy search bar right on their site where you can type in where you want to go, when, and how many guests. Once that step is completed, a detailed list of accommodations will appear with images, price, reviews, and the option to select an entire home, private room, or a shared room. You can also narrow down your price range from as little as $10 to $1,000+. There are a few ways to book spaces on Airbnb. Some hosts want to get to know a guest before they confirm a reservation while others prefer to reduce the time it takes to manage requests by using Airbnb's Instant Book feature. The buttons to book features include:

Request to Book- which sends a reservation request to a host for the specific trip dates you select. The host has the option to either accept or decline the request, or ask you questions about your trip. When a host responds to your request, they send you an email to let you know. If they don't respond within 24 hours, your request simply expires.

Instant Book- which immediately confirms your reservation and closes the host's calendar to other incoming requests. They will send you a receipt by email with your trip's details, and your host may follow up with you, too.

Contact Host-lets you start a conversation about their space and hosting style through Airbnb’s secure messaging system. You can use the messaging system to discuss trip details, request special prices, or ask about specific amenities.

Cancellations and Refunds

If for some reason you need to cancel your reservation or be provided a refund, Airbnb lists four in-depth documents right on their site that outlines guest refund policy and extenuating circumstances for host and guest cancellations.

World’s Best Festivals – USI Affinity

The Best Festivals to Attend in the World

Music Festival

Festivals are an expressive way to celebrate heritage, culture, tradition, community, and so many other traditions. We look forward to them every year or look for new events to attend. They provide something for everyone and serve often times as “weekend fun.”

All festivals are cultural in one way or another. There are many types of cultural festivals such as National, Religious and Seasonal. They all serve the purpose of bringing happiness to our lives, and strengthen our sense of community.

With so many festivals around the world to choose from, we have selected a popular and diverse list of the world’s best and all they have to offer.

Austin City Limits Music Festival

Held in October over two weekends in Zilker Park, they call this festival the live music capital of the world. ACL Festival offers a diverse lineup of acts every year with 8 stages and more than 130 bands. Since 2002 bands from all over the world have flocked to Austin to play the stages like Outkast, Lorde, The Eagles, The Shins, Foo Fighters, Billy Idol, and MANY more. 

You will never get hungry at this festival either with an impressive spread featuring Austin Eats Food Court which showcases Austin’s premier restaurants. From tacos, local brews, farmers markets, turkey legs, you name it – you can eat it here. Finally, a unique addition to this festival is the Art Market. With phone charging stations, a mini-fest for kids, photogenic spaces, and merchandise to bring home with you, there’s plenty to do for the entire family. 

Bottle Rock Napa Valley

Held every year at the end of May, Bottle Rock Napa Valley is simply put: Music, Food, Wine, and Brew.

This festival has become the kick-off event to San Francisco’s Bay Area’s summer festivities. Held at the Napa Valley Expo, the festival brings together 100,000 attendees for a 3-day celebration of great music. The insider secret here is that Bottle Rock delivers all the creature comforts that make the Napa Valley a must visit destination—world class wines, excellent cuisine, and beautiful surroundings in the middle of a charming and walk-able town in Wine Country.

Headliners this year include No Doubt, Imagine Dragons, and Robert Plant. Beyond the headliners, Bottle Rock’s lineup is filled with 70+ great acts. With that many choices, it might be difficult to decide which of the 4 stages to stake out, but the simple layout of the festival at the Napa Valley Expo takes the stress of choosing one or the other out of the equation; the longest walk you’ll have to take between stages is about 5 minutes.

Scottsdale Culinary Festival

The longest running event of its type in the nation, this Festival has grown to a community favorite hosting over 35,000 guests, 20 events, 100 restaurants, dozens of top chefs and countless fine wine and spirit selections. The six day festival offers a diverse menu of luxurious dinners, themed cocktail parties and a signature event, the Great Arizona Picnic featuring 50 restaurants, chef demonstrations, live bands and specialty tasting venues.

Held every April, the festival is a non-profit, and has raised over $4 million for arts and arts education programs since 2001, which is pretty spectacular. The festival truly encompasses a wide range of activities for all ages and there is a family zone with tons for the kids to do. As a bonus, kids under 12 get in free.

St Patrick’s Festival

St. Patrick’s Festival was established by the Government of Ireland in November 1995. The principal of St. Patrick’s Festival, since its inauguration, was to develop a major annual international festival around the national holiday over which the ‘owners’ of the festival, the Irish people, would stand proud. It sets out to reflect the talents and achievements of Irish people on many national and world stages, and it acts as an exciting showcase for the skills of the people of Ireland, of every age and social background. Held every March in Dublin, Ireland thousands of people flock to event for the annual parade, food, and Guinness, Guinness, and more Guinness. 


Sure there are plenty of places to celebrate Oktoberfest right in the U.S. but why not go to its home in Munich, Germany to experience the truest of its kind? Oktoberfest is the world's largest Volksfest (beer festival) and is a 16 day festival running from mid or late September to the first weekend in October with more than 6 million people from around the world attending the event every year. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, and has been held since 1810. Beer connoisseurs are simply in heaven with authentic beer tents at every turn.

Drink beer by the liter (for the non-beer enthusiasts or children don't worry: sodas and water are also available) and eat traditional Bavarian food, such as pretzels with a diameter of 15 inches. Listen to live brass bands playing traditional Bavarian music as well as more up-to-date music, and enjoy yourself with hundreds of other people from all over the world, dancing and singing the hours away.

Other top festivals around the world include:

Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana
• Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California
• Burning Man in Nevada
• Glastonbury Festival
• London Fashion Week
• Toronto International Film Festival

Best Places to Visit in your 20’s – USI Affinity

The 4 Trips You Must Take in Your 20’s


Millennial travel
Twenties is the age of learning, discovering new things, self-exploration and deciding what you want to do with your life. It is during this time that you learn how to live life. You’re young enough to want to go and explore the unseen wonders of the world; you’re old enough to use your own money; you’re (relatively) free; you’re not tied down. You won’t get to relive this decade again. 

So- where are the absolute best places to visit during this decade of your life? Let’s start with the most obvious…

The Eurotrip

One of the best trips to take in your 20s now and forever will be, “the Eurotrip.” An idea once made famous by the 2004 American-European teen comedy adventure film written by Alec Berg. Back-packing in Europe is one of the most fulfilling and satisfying experiences. You visit some of the quaintest places on Earth, meet different people, share your stories and make good friends. Europe also has one of the most fashionable nightlife scenes and the culinary lifestyle is to die for.

We don’t suggest being on a diet during a Eurotrip. Otherwise, pastries, waffles, macarons, tarts, croissant, Belgian chocolates, wine, and cheese are all out. You might think you can get these types of food back in the states, but it truly isn’t the same! The Eurotrip is also one of the best places for self-discovery and responsibility. You learn to take care of yourself and appreciate the smaller things like a clean, comfy bed or a well-cooked meal. You also learn to prioritize and become a bargain-hunter; one of the most essential life hacks you can ever learn.

Road Trippin' in the USA

If you’re looking for an authentic cross-country adventure, why not road trip through good ole ‘Merica?’ Even if you’ve lived in America your whole life, there’s a good chance you’ve only seen a small part of your country. When people travel domestic, they typically skip the off-the-beaten-path destinations and head straight for metropolitan cities.

By going on a road trip, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to see all of your home—the beautiful, the surreal, and the “wow, I can’t believe this place actually exists!” Go to Mississippi for some barbecue, chill at the beach in Florida, and go figure out what’s up with North Dakota. The USA is such a diverse place that allows you to experience all of what America has to offer (and often makes you appreciate your hometown that much more). So, grab some friends, load a vehicle, and get ready for an eye-opening adventure as you see ‘the other’ side(s) of the States you’ve only read or heard about.

South America Adventure

South America has long captivated travelers with its plethora of natural and cultural wonders and it’s easy to see why. From beaches and rainforests, to snow-covered mountains, this continent is massive and perfect for the 20 something globetrotters to explore while they are young and not tied down to a career, family, etc. One of the classic South American journeys is exploring around the Andes and visiting Peru where you can find archaeological treasures like nearby Machu Picchu.

Brazil is also a hotspot for this age to explore. With a great music scene, salsa-filled nightclubs, charming cafes, alluring beaches and one of a kind festivals, Brazil offers endless activities. A few hours away, you can also explore a remote coastline, rainforest-covered islands (like Ilha Grande) and colonial towns that are sure to leave you with memories. Other top destinations include Colombia (it’s safe that it’s been in decades,) Argentina, and Chile.

The Land Down Under

In Australia, you can truly do it all. Sip on cocktails in funky bars, explore the outback on horseback or by four-wheel drive, all in the same day! Australia is one of the most remote countries in the world and, ironically, one of the most popular places to visit, especially among backpackers and young travelers. The flight may be long, but what the land down under has to offer is 100% worth the travel. Just to name a few of Australia’s most popular: The Great Barrier Reef, Sydney, Uluru, Perth, wine, lush jungles, surfing, and Karijini National Park make up some of the top places to see and do while visiting this country.

Australia has such fascinating native creatures such as kangaroos, koalas and wombats. In your own country you would be amazed and shocked to see a kangaroo ‘bouncing’ down the road, but in certain areas of Australia this is seen as completely normal, something that no one would bat an eyelid at!

Another reason why going to Australia in your 20’s is the best is- it is a known fact that the night-life of Australia is outstanding, with parties and barbecues on the beach; it will be a trip you will never forget. Going during the festival period is also a great reason to visit; you will be able to live the Aussie experience with its promised weather, great food and fantastic music.

There are many countries that you can visit while you’re in your 20’s but why should you really travel while you’re young?

1) Traveling changes the way you relate to the world
2) Traveling changes the way you relate to others
3) Traveling empowers you to take on new challenges
4) Traveling pushes you educational horizons
5) We are never guaranteed old age, so enjoy life’s experiences now

Bon Voyage!



Top 5 Cameras for Traveling – USI Affinity

The best cameras for travelers

Cameras can fit into that confusing tech category. Confusing from the standpoint of knowing what you want, but with so many different options on the market-how do you know which one is best? If you are in need of a travel camera, great news! Cameras have gotten smaller and more portable than ever, all while delivering better quality images.

In our opinion, a camera is one of the best traveling companions, so we rounded up the top 5 best travel cameras covering everything from budget, durability, waterproof, and size just to name a few.

Canon PowerShot D30
Cannon Powershot D30

This durable camera is for anyone encountering a little more adventure than reading by the pool. Waterproof and shockproof, this camera can survive the kinds of knocks delivered to it by most outdoor activities and still produce quality images. The Canon PowerShot D30 is a good-looking camera that handles nicely, boasting a 12.1MP 1/2.3in BSI CMOS sensor and a 28-140mm lens. It’s not terribly sophisticated, with limited exposure control, but can survive in depths of up to 25m. Other features include a built-in GPS, full HD video recording and Canon’s Intelligent IS optical image stabilization. 

Olympus Tough TG-3

If you’re looking for a camera that can endure all things, look no further. Aimed at resisting all you can throw at it – literally – this shockproof, crushproof (yes we said crushproof to weights of 100kg,) dustproof, and freezeproof camera certainly boasts every tough element needed to survive a rough and adventurous trip! Features like WiFi (remote camera operation, easy file sharing), time-interval shooting (similar to popular action cams), time-lapse movie (sunsets! starscapes!) and advanced GPS make the TG-3 Olympus’s most versatile outdoor camera.

Fujifilm XT-1
Fujifilm XT1

If budget isn’t of your concern, this camera boasts outstanding image quality. The photos produced by the XT-1 are sharp with exemplary colors and the size is perfect for easily fitting into a bag for travel. The weather-resistant structure is sealed in approximately 80 places and is both dust and water resistant. The XT-1's big, bright LCD screen is clear to see under all conditions whether you're inside or out and its ability to accurately capture a moving subject has earned its title as of the best regarded cameras. 

Sony A7 II

The A7 II is one of Sony’s best mirrorless cameras. The body is quite compact, but a high-quality metal build means it should survive minor bumps and tumbles without suffering any dents and scratches, perfect for travel. If you’re looking for incredibly fast autofocus, excellent image quality, beginner-friendly interface, integrated WiFi, and a solid battery life – this Sony camera is hard to beat. 

Samsung WB800F

If you’re looking for affordability and a good smartphone companion, this Samsung is worth considering. Let’s say you’re on vacation and would like to share your photos with friends and family ASAP. Well, you can. With built-in Wi-Fi, you can send photos to social networks and e-mail contacts—right from the camera. Plus, upload and store your memories from the camera to Microsoft SkyDrive. Some cameras struggle with conquering distance. The WB800F allows you to move closer without taking a single step. You’re guaranteed to cause travel envy without ever leaving where you're standing.


Best Cities in America for Foodies – USI Affinity

Top 5 Cities in America for Foodies


Most people compare school systems, parks and shopping centers when choosing the best place to live. Foodies, on the other hand, follow their taste buds. Food lovers are more interested in the caliber of a community's restaurants, culinary skills of local chefs and whether they'll be able to find the ingredients needed to assemble a gourmet meal at home.

You don’t have to be a traveler to be a foodie enthusiast, but eating is probably the greatest excuse we've ever heard for planning a trip. Part of traveling revolves around the food experience and the different culinary tastes that we tend to then replicate, or try to replicate when we arrive back home.
It’s time to dig in to our top 5 list of the best up and coming food cities in America. You can take a look, but we can’t guarantee you won’t get hungry.


Home to the Juicy Lucy, a masterpiece of a burger with cheddar cheese stuffed inside. Foodies flock to Minneapolis for some of the best beer and dive bars, and was recently recognized as “America’s next great food city” by Saveur Magazine. Minneapolis-St. Paul is also home to several James Beard nominated chefs and was voted #1 in the Best Local Food Scene category by USA Today 10Best. Some of the top foodie establishments to visit in Minneapolis are:

1) Betty Danger’s Country Club
2) Café Racer
3) Colossal Café
4) Como Dockside
5) HeyDay
6) Salt Cellar
7) Spoon And Stable


When most people think of top food scene cities, they think of New York, Chicago, or L.A., when in all actuality, those cities have great food scenes but it’s the cities that you would not expect, like Louisville, that offer a foodie heaven on earth. This city is known for the Kentucky Derby and Bourbon but it’s also known for food. We aren’t referring to KFC or Colonel Sanders, either.

Farmers and farmers’ markets are supported by restaurants like Harvest, Mayan Cafe, Eiderdown, and Proof on Main, who promote their use of local, seasonal ingredients in their dishes. There's also a growing food truck population. Louisville food traditions include the Hot Brown sandwich, invented at the Brown Hotel, bourbon balls, and the Modjeska, a caramel-covered marshmallow.


Not only is this city home to The Ohio State University and the 2014 NCAA Football National Champions, it’s also on the food scene rise. Although Cleveland is Ohio’s current food-success story, watch out because Columbus is booming. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams is sweeping through the Midwest and Southeast with flavors like Salty Caramel, Wildberry Lavender, and Mango Lassi.

Don’t miss Thurman’s burgers, which was featured on Travel Channel’s Man V. Food, and the North Market, which was established in 1876 and is Columbus’ only remaining true public market. That’s where more than 30 merchants vend a wide variety of fresh, local, authentic food. Offerings include organic produce, grass-fed beef, pork, lamb and goat, pastured poultry, sustainably raised seafood, locally roasted coffee, baked goods, cheeses, flowers and other artisan food items.  


Did you know that Chipotle was started as a single restaurant near Denver University’s campus? Yep, that’s right. The now $20 billion company has a single restaurant on vitually every block in every major city. Denver is also the company headquarters for Smashburger, Qdoba, Quiznos, Noodles and Company, and Red Robin. Over the last few years, some of the hottest additions to the Denver foodie scene were born in RiNo, the River North Art District.

Work & Class and Cart-Driver were both featured as two of the best new restaurants in Denver for 2015 by 5280. The Source, similar to Columbus’s North Market, is a highly curated European-style artisan food market housed in an iconic 1880s ironworks building. The Source offers a one-stop shopping experience for the food-obsessed while also providing some of Denver's best artisans with an outlet for their crafts.


Portland’s like a food-lover’s fantasy land. It’s loaded with high-profile, nationally relevant restaurants ranging from Pok Pok to Toro Bravo, Beast, Paley’s Place, and Le Pigeon. 700+ food carts serve up (often upscale) restaurant-quality food on the cheap and sit in gigantic clusters with their own bars in the middle. Tourists and locals commingle in long lines not just for brunch, but for donuts and ice cream.

The sandwich shops and pizza joints are directed by top chefs and oh, James Beard, who we have spoken of previously, is from the City of Roses. He was into onion sandwiches, and of course Portland has the best. Portland is also a melting pot of influences so if you’re looking for a diverse city where your palate can be expanded, it’s definitely the food scene to hit up. From Jewish, French, Middle Eastern, and Thai – Portland offers it all. 


Top Tech Accessories for Travelers – USI Affinity

Plastc Card

Top 10 Tech Accessories for Travelers

Travel gets better every year thanks to technological advancements on planes, at airports and in your day to day life. Are you headed for a getaway? Traveling for business, pleasure or both? Whether you're making your way by plane, train or automobile, no trip is complete these days without digital accessories. The problem is, with so many gadgets and varieties of each on the market, it can be hard to choose.

We rounded up some of the top tech accessories specifically for travelers. If you travel with tech, these accessories are must-haves.

1) Know Roaming Smart Sticker

If you’ve left the country, chances are you’ve felt the wrath of data roaming’s dagger in your phone bill. You’ll be safe from that happening with the KnowRoaming Smart Sticker. The KnowRoaming Smart Sticker is an app and an actual SIM sticker that protects your pockets while keeping you connected internationally. When you’re home, the sticker does nothing. You won’t even notice it’s there. When you land in a new country, the sticker automatically activates and switches you onto a local carrier.

Unlimited data rates start as low as $7.99 per day in a majority of countries in Europe like France, United Kingdom, Spain and tons more. If you prefer pay-as-you-go, the rates are super low for data, phone calls and texts. Basically, if you need data on the go and travel often, this will change your life.

2) Plastc Card 

Plastc has changed the credit card game for the better. Plastc allows you to combine all of your credit cards, gift cards and loyalty cards into one secure card. Up to 20 cards can be stored on the Plastc Card. An e-ink touch screen on the card allows you to scroll through and choose which card you want to use for each payment, and then you swipe it exactly like a regular credit card at all the places you already frequent. If you’re worried about security, don’t be, as Plastc comes with protection. The magnetic stripe and NFC chip are disabled until you select your card, preventing any fraudulent activity. A secure card PIN of your choice, photo ID, proximity alerts if you get too far from your card, and ‘Return Me’ mode, are all features with Plastc. If you do happen to lose your card, you can completely wipe your card data remotely from your smart phone.

3) Travel Power Strip

What is it with most hotels offering only one or two outlets? We have all been there -- the inconvenience of having to pull the hotel nightstand out so you can plug in your phone. Is there anyone who travels these days that doesn’t have something that requires recharging? In cases where multiple devices are in need of recharging, a travel power strip comes in super handy. The Monster Power Strip, which is about $15 on Amazon and elsewhere, also has a USB plug. Another option: Belkin has one with two USB plugs, but it’s twice as expensive. 

4) Home Monitoring Camera 

Watch what’s happening at home from anywhere in the world. The device is a discreet HD camera that works with a phone app to allow travelers to connect with family through Wi-Fi. Use the 24-hour playback to keep a tab on kids and pets, or the two-way microphone to do a free video chat. 

5) Kensington ComboSaver Portable Notebook Lock 

A notebook computer is stolen every 53 seconds in the U.S. It says so right on the box this lock comes in, citing 2005 FBI statistics. So imagine how fast your laptop — and the data it contains, might fly out the door if you left it unattended in a Starbucks in London or Paris? Kensington has been making notebook security systems for years, and theirs is the brand you see most often in college dorm rooms and other areas where laptops are easily swiped. 

6) LugLoc

If the only smart feature you want is the ability to track your bag, save some money and just buy a LugLoc. All you have to do is put the tracking gizmo, which combines GSM and Bluetooth technology, in your suitcase. With a tap on the app, a map will appear showing its location. Genius. 

7) Olloclip 4-in-1-Lens

If you have an iPhone and you take a lot of pictures, especially when traveling check out the Olloclip which slides onto the corner of your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. The Olloclip acts as a wide-angle lens for your mobile camera, doubling your field of view and capturing robust street scenes and landscapes. Also included: a fish-eye lens and two macro lenses for portraits and detail shots. What’s even better? It’s under $100.00.

8) Logitech Keys-To-Go

This universal keyboard is just a quarter-inch thick and connects via Bluetooth to any Android or iOS device. It’s a top-rated travel tech accessory for its mechanical keys, which are dramatically easier to use (and less prone to typos) than the touch pads you’ll commonly find elsewhere. 

9) USB Wall Charger

Think about how many items you take with you when you travel. Kindle? iPod? iPhone? After a long flight/flights, all might need recharging. One option is plugging them all into a laptop with USB outlets, the other is an affordable little piece of awesomeness. The USB Wall Charger plugs right into the wall, and has outlets for multiple USB devices. The Monoprice 8856 is a great buy for $7.80, but there are similar products available on Amazon for similar prices, like the PowerGen for $15. Another option: Travel in the car much? How about a USB charger that plugs into the cigarette plug. Many come with two USB outlets so your devices don’t have to fight for over which gets juice.

10) Wallet Ninja

Possibly the weirdest looking, but most useful thing you could ever put in your card holder. Why? Because you just never know when you're going to need a tool to open a letter or a bottle or a box - all in the same outing. Wallet Ninja, a credit card-sized pocket multi-tool, is definitely a great travelling companion. The 16-in-one device, made from heat-treated steel, is also a ruler, a phone stand, a peeler, a screwdriver, and probably offers more uses than we can put into words, so be careful how you use it. It's TSA-approved for on-board use as well.