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North Carolina readies for 'Hunger Games' opening

hunger games north carolinaAnticipation for the movie version of "The Hunger Games," which will be released next week, has been building for more than a year - and no more so than in North Carolina, where most of the film was shot.

At the North Carolina Governor's Conference on Tourism this week, Governor Bev Perdue cheered the first movie of the dystopian saga, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as the rebellious Katniss fighting for her life. While "The Hunger Games" has become North Carolina's largest film set on site (previous biggies were "The Last of the Mohicans" and "Dirty Dancing"), another 119 films are being shot in the state, Perdue said.

If you're looking to follow in the stars' footsteps, you'll have to rent a car; shooting sites range from Charlotte (a stand-in for The Capital) to DuPont State Recreational Park, site of the Arena, to the tiny town of Shelby, where the Reaping scenes were filmed. During the shoot, the stars were based in Asheville, in the western part of the state.

Must read e-book: Fatal Voyage, the Wrecking of the Costa Concordia

Looking for a relaxing read en route to your cruise? Then don't buy Fatal Voyage, The Wrecking of the Costa Concordia, a Kindle Singles e-book that takes an in-depth look at the modern day Titanic.

Written by journalist John Hooper, the e-book covers one of the worst passenger ship disaster since the Titanic in engaging detail. Numerous interviews with survivors describe plates falling as the ship's two-story dining room listed, the dark passageways where passengers crawled to reach an outside deck, the confusion around the lifeboats as the crew, acting without clear orders from above, tried to maintain control.

Hooper's experience as a Rome-based reporter for the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper stands him in good stead. The book contains details about the sinking that never made the U.S. coverage, including the Italians' collective embarrassment around one of their own, Costa Concordia Captain Francesco Schettino.

Travel Smarter 2012: New tips for the budget traveler

For a while there, it looked like 2012 would be a bad year for budget travelers. With hotel occupancy rates creeping upward, flight capacity remaining tight and recession-wary vacationers opening their wallets again, it seemed inevitable that prices would rise accordingly.

But something funny happened during the lean years: Travelers became more savvy about using technology to find discounts and last-minute deals. And the travel industry has found that once people become used to grabbing travel bargains, it's hard to get them to pay full price again.

So with that in mind, here are some ways budget travelers can continue acting like it's 2009:

Book on the go. With the resurging economy, hotels had hoped that the booking window - the length of time before a scheduled trip - would go back to the pre-recession standard of 90 days. Instead, says Ben Kazez, Senior Director of Mobile Apps & Emerging Platforms at Expedia, people - particularly younger travelers - have become used to waiting until the last minute to find a hotel room. "They treat it like going out to a restaurant," he said when the company launched its hotel app in December; 60 % of people use it for same-day bookings.

Emirates comes to Seattle, launches nonstop Dubai service

Living in Seattle has its trade offs, travel-wise. You're closer to Alaska and Hawaii and Japan and places you'd never thought you'd visit, like the Yukon. But it takes an incredibly long time to get to the Caribbean, Europe or almost anywhere else, and there aren't as many non-stop long-haul flights as you might wish.

Enter Emirates. By adding a non-stop flight from Seattle to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the airline instantly opens up easier travel to the Middle East, Africa and India - a boon for the Emerald City's multicultural population. The flight to Dubai will take about 12 hours, with a 14 hour return.

The service launched March 1 with a press conference, appearances by flight attendants wearing the trademark Emirates pillbox hat and scarf and an arriving plane full of various dignitaries. As the headquarters of Boeing, Seattle has a rich aviation history and you could see the ground crews taking cell phone photos of the Emirates plane as it pulled through a water turret salute to unload at the gate.

Seattle isn't the only West Coast beneficiary of recent Emirates expansion. The airline opened a 9,502 square foot lounge in San Francisco last month that boasts marble floors, Rolex watches and chauffeur service for Silicon Valley execs lucky enough to be in those highly regarded First Class private suites or Business Class.

Things aren't that fancy up here in the Pacific Northwest. But one thing that will make Seattle frequent fliers happy: Emirates has partnered with Alaska Airlines for its mileage program. So maybe those lie flat beds aren't as unattainable as you might think.

Pinterest for travelers: 5 practical uses

Everyone's jumping on the Pinterest bandwagon, and no wonder. The social media site, where you "pin" inspiring photos of luscious baked goods, bucket-list world landmarks and HDR-enhanced sunsets, provides perfect travel porn. Once you start browsing other peoples' boards, it's almost impossible to stop.

But does Pinterest have any practical uses for travelers? Although it seems mostly geared toward of the armchair set, there are a few ways that people planning vacations can get something substantial out of scrapbooking:

Get ideas. The most obvious way to use Pinterest is still the most practical. Already you can find thousands of gorgeous travel photos on Pinterest, not only from regular users, but from noted brands such as The Travel Channel (and yes, Gadling). As more travel companies and destinations flock to the site, the visual resources that are available to people planning vacations will become richer.

Just look at the Visit Savannah boards. Run by the city's destination marketing organization, some of Savannah's pins carry practical information, such as the best things to order at local restaurants and specialty shopping. And the I Do board makes you want to redo your nuptials in front of the city's Spanish oaks. It's a perfect fit for Pinterest's wedding-crazed members.

Crowdsource. Most people use Pinterest to put forth their own vision of what a vacation could be. But let's say you're taking your first trip to Paris. You could create a Paris board and invite your most Francophile friends to pin their recommendations too. It's a much more visual way than asking for tips on Facebook.

"Historic" Hooters now reopened, complete with company museum

Who knew that a Hooters restaurant could be considered "historic?" But that's exactly how the company, famed for its guy-centric combo of bosomy waitresses and spicy chicken wings, is billing the reopening of its original location in Clearwater, Fla.

The Hooters Management Corp. empire, which spans 44 states, 27 countries and once encompassed an airline, began as a beach bar concept on Clearwater's Gulf to Bay Blvd in October 1983 (yes, that means that next year we might see tight 30-year commemorative tank tops).

The original location shut down for a remodel last November and has relaunched with 7,000 square feet and 35 HD-flat screen TVs. Besides the ability to see a sports game from most vantage points, the restaurant now has a MuSEEum chronicling its history. Memorabilia in the muSEEum range from postcards from the Hooters Casino Hotel in Las Vegas - soon to be on the auction block - to a chicken costume that the founders once wore to drive in business.

Travel writer Chris Gray Faust writes about Value Luxury vacations on her website, Chris Around The World.

Six things NOT to do when renting an RV

Forget your trailer park misconceptions: If you're planning a long haul road trip, either in the U.S. or abroad, renting an RV may be your most cost-effective way to travel.

At least that's what my husband and I found when we took a 24-foot-long campervan through the South and North islands of New Zealand last fall. Not only did we have more freedom to go where we wanted without waiting for buses or trains, we saved money on eating out - and had fun meeting other travelers at our campsite each night.

RVing does have its pitfalls, however, and we noticed plenty of them on our week-long trip. Here's a few things that could inject a sour note into your open road opus:

Rent the biggest vehicle you can find. You might see this trip as a time to indulge your Big Rig fantasies. But you're much better off renting a smaller campervan that handles well, particularly if you're going anywhere that involves twisty roads or mountain overpasses. Smaller RVs are also better on stretches of open highway, where strong winds can push your vehicle around the road.

Ignore vehicle briefings. Our campervan came with a DVD that cut off halfway through the instructions. "We'll figure it out," said my husband, who was eager to hit the road. Ha. Those 15 minutes we saved by leaving the parking lot early were nothing compared to the hour it took us to figure out how to dump out the sewage. Never again.

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