Independent traveler

Love to travel, but hate tours? This blog offers insight on how to go it alone, from safe accommodations to seeing the best, and maybe the worst. After all, independent travel is an adventure. Flexibility and traveling on a budget are critical. No five-stars or all-inclusives. So hop aboard. Learn to enjoy travel at your own pace and price. Meet other adventurers like yourself and mingle with the locals. Remember: You may travel alone, but you wonʼt be lonely. gloria.independenttraveler@gmail.com

The “Land of Enchantment”, New Mexico, Pecos National Historical Park. - 9/22/2012 4:27 pm

All border crossings are not created equal... - 8/19/2012 7:58 am

Avoid Interstates, enjoy travel through middle America... - 8/12/2012 6:12 am

Right now is the best time to travel the Alaska Highway. - 8/4/2012 5:45 pm

Fifty Shades of Grey becoming a travel phenomenon. - 7/29/2012 6:46 am

Winners of the annual Independent Traveler Photo Contest... - 7/21/2012 10:00 pm

Independent Traveler photo contest, submit your favorite travel photo here... - 7/1/2012 10:38 am

How to get a good seat on your next flight. - 6/24/2012 9:26 am

The “Land of Enchantment”, New Mexico, Pecos National Historical Park.

Ruins of a former mission on the site of Pecos National Historical Park outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.Ruins of a former mission on the site of Pecos National Historical Park outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I must admit that one trip to America’s Southwest a couple of years ago changed the course of my life. Having lived in Alaska for 32 years, I never thought that there might be another place I could be as happy, but recent travel to New Mexico, “the land of enchantment”, has given me other thoughts.

Visiting one of New Mexico’s many, many interesting historical and cultural sites, Pecos National Historical Park right outside of Santa Fe in only one of the state's highlights.

Desert flora make the site even more interesting.Desert flora make the site even more interesting.
While weather cannot be overlooked given the rainy summer and record snowfall winter in Anchorage, it is a total delight to walk the grounds of this historical monument and contemplate what life was like over three hundred years ago when the Pueblo people lived here. It is September and daytime temperatures are moderate in the high 70s to 80s. Skies are bright blue and sunny, punctuating the natural beauty of the desert landscape and ancient ruins, a sight I’m not privy to much in Anchorage.

I still believe there is no place more beautiful in the world than Alaska on a warm, sunny day, but visiting the desert which is a 180 degree turn, gives me room for contemplation. It’s a world of difference, not to mention a culture that is as rich and foreign as any other.

Mexico is one of my favorite destinations and New Mexico is becoming very enamoring as well. Of course it is only politics that separated the two and much of the culture of (old) Mexico lives on in New Mexico. Pecos is not only historical, but the current population is proud descents of the old.

For a step back into the past, visiting New Mexico’s historical sites is well worth a little travel off the beaten path.

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All border crossings are not created equal...

I sure wish that U.S. Customs and Border protection could get it together and be consistent across the board. I remember when entering at Anchorage International in the 80s when the agents were so rude and ruthless that they treated every American like a criminal and it took over an hour to clear customs, but not today. At sometime, they started to be reasonable and logical. They must have decided that not everyone was trying to bring something into the states illegally.

However, recently I heard a story firsthand about people crossing the border by vehicle from Canada into the U.S. near Hope, B.C. after driving the Alaska Highway. The driver was interrogated for possessing a pound of commercially produced ground buffalo/bison meat.

Here's how it went:

Customs agent: "Do you possess any vegetables or meat?"

American: "Yes I have one pound of ground buffalo."

Customs agent: "Show me your hunting license to kill buffalo/bison?"

American: "I didn't kill the bison. I bought a pound of ground meat in Anchorage."

Customs agent: "You are not allowed to export bison to the U.S."

American: "I bought it in the U.S in Anchorage. I'm not exporting it."

Customs agent: "It doesn't matter."

American: "I'll show it to you. It is still in the plastic tube with the price and store name."

Customs agent: "I don't want it. I'm keeping your passport and you go over to the agricultural station."

American: "But..."

Customs agent: "Go now."

Two hours later after showing agents the one pound of bison meat, searching the vehicle including looking under the hood and a thorough search of the engine plus pulling everything out of the American's camping trailer, the American was allowed to cross back into the United States. (Of course, only after the American put everything back into place.)

Come on Customs why don't you concentrate on the bad guys and leave law abiding American citizens alone. What happened to common sense? It just goes to show, when you put little people into powerful positions there is abuse. How sad!

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Avoid Interstates, enjoy travel through middle America...

Most of us Alaskans aren't use to traveling around "the lower 48" or as we Sourdoughs say, "Outside", but the experience can be delightful if one takes the back-roads as compared to sticking to the Interstate highways.

This week I drove from Santa Fe, New Mexico to my hometown of Grand Island, Nebraska. In an effort to avoid the confusion and heavy traffic of driving through Denver on Interstate 25, I veered off I25 at Trinidad in Southern Colorado and took two lane highways heading northeast to Nebraska.

What a surprise and what a delight. The back roads were in great shape and the scenery, while sometimes quite boring, was something totally new. Prairie grasslands, rolling hills, cattle herds and friendly drivers who waved with each passing, were common. Small towns with courthouses and bank buildings dating back to the 1800s were the norm. It was a historic adventure that was totally unexpected.

Talk about deserted, cars were few and 18 wheelers even fewer. It did take two days to cover the 750 miles, but I arrived less stressed than I would have had I taken the clogged, poorly maintained interstate route.

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Right now is the best time to travel the Alaska Highway.

Where's all the traffic? And no bugs!!! Photo courtesy of Ingrid MaschmeyerWhere's all the traffic? And no bugs!!! Photo courtesy of Ingrid Maschmeyer

With wildlife sightings up and highway traffic down not to mention the bug population, now is my favorite time to take a trip Along the Alaska Highway.

I’ve been numerous times and every year it is different. This year, for whatever reason, traffic is down and the animals know it. You don’t have to go far to appreciate this unique destination.
Stone mountain sheep hightailing it down the highway. Photo courtesy of Ingrid MaschmeyerStone mountain sheep hightailing it down the highway. Photo courtesy of Ingrid Maschmeyer

To get to the Highway, take the Glenn Highway out of Anchorage to Glennallen, make a left on the Richardson Highway and then take the Tok cutoff. You’re there.

Or if you are headed out of Fairbanks, take the Richardson Highway to Delta Junction the official terminus of the highway or the beginning, however you like to look at the glass.

My favorite close destination Along the Alaska Highway is Haines Junction, Yukon, the jumping off spot for Canada’s Kluan National Park. Here you can stay or camp at nearby Kathleen Lake. It’s spectacular and a reminder of why we all love this part of the world. Plus it’s only a two day drive away from Anchorage.

If you have the time, Muncho Lake, B.C. in Northern BC is my next choice with a stop at Laird Hot Springs, B.C. along the way. While four days plus away from Anchorage the scenery in between is remarkable and as I’ve mentioned, this year, you are bound to see numerous bear, bison, stone sheep and who knows what else.

Given that Highway traffic is down, you will also be helping out the local highway vendors who depend on summer traffic to make their year-round income. They are great people and a real perk of travel Along the Alaska Highway.

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Fifty Shades of Grey becoming a travel phenomenon.

If you’re a woman and haven’t heard of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey, you may have been living under the same rock as I. When forced to take Alaska Airline's flight 66 (due to heavy flight loads) to Seattle via Cordova, Yakutat and Juneau this week, I decided to bring along the copy my daughter lent me to pass the eight hours devoted to multiple take offs, landings and ground time.

Little did I know that a hundred pages later I would be obscuring the book cover from my fellow passengers. One particularly observant flight attendant, however, did notice and volunteered that she had already read the two sequels. Hum.

Author E.L. James’ rise from obscurity to household words, via Fifty Shades of Grey, is not only capturing readers it is also having an impact on travelers. Seattle is finding that its downtown Escala high-rise condo building is becoming a popular tourist attraction. The Escala is where Fifty Shades of Grey’s male protagonist Christian Grey lives in the racy novel.

On the stranger than fiction front, a hotel in the UK even replaced its bedstand Gideon Bible with the novel.

I’m guessing the owner hasn’t read the novel, if he thinks it will put his female guests to sleep. While I'm not recommending the book, it certainly does pass the time on a long flight.

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Winners of the annual Independent Traveler Photo Contest...

There are some great travel photography winners this year and I'd like to thank everyone who sent in submissions. The photos were judged on how much they convey feeling or emotions of the place or object. As they say, “a photo is worth a thousand words”, but not always. I feel these photos do.

First place goes to Duane Magoon for his shot of an unusual cloud formation over Hope. It's one thing to see clouds that remind you of something and another to get a photograph that conveys what you think you see. This one does or as Duane says, “do you see the snow goose”. You betcha' Duane. Great shot!

Snow goose cloud over HopeSnow goose cloud over Hope

Second place also goes again to Duane, which he took at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center outside of Girdwood on the Seward Highway before the Portage turnoff.

You might think as I first did, “well geez getting a good wildlife photo there isn't that hard.” Well this one was a chance happening and once again, Duane was in the right place at the right time and grabbed his camera. Good job.

Great place to nap.Great place to nap.

Third place comes from Pelin Demir and she entitles it “Weekend in Asos, Turkey". What I like about this photo is that the viewer is brought into the ambiance of the lovely harbor side backdrop and the food. You know right away, it's not taken in the U.S. It has a definite Mediterranean feel. Kodos Pelin.

A tranquil breakfast.A tranquil breakfast.

When you take travel photos it's not always easy to grasp the feel of a place, thing or moment in time. I feel all three of these photos do. Thanks guys...Gloria

P.S. Check out this website for a thousand pictures that are worth a thousand words.

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Independent Traveler photo contest, submit your favorite travel photo here...

It's that time of year for vacation or staycation photos and the Independent Traveler blog's annual photography contest. Submit your photo or photos to gloria.independenttraveler@gmail.com along with a short caption and your name, date and location of photo.

The top three photos will be posted on the Independent Traveler blog.

Photos will be judged on clarity, subject matter and audience appeal. Your photo should evoke an emotion and also represent the place it was taken. For instance boating in the the Caribbean, skiing in Girdwood, trip to the great wall, and the list goes on.

Can't wait to see your choices so send me an e-mail now and attach your favorite travel photo...Gloria

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How to get a good seat on your next flight.

Nobody in their right mind wants to sit in the last row of any airplane where one is constantly listening to the toilets flush or the clanging and chit chatter of the flight attendants in the galley not to belabor the point that the seats do not recline. So how do you get the best seat available?

Check out the following websites: SeatExpert.com and SeatGuru.com.

Both provide seat configurations of most planes, but the advantage Seat Expert has over Seat Guru is that you can sign up for seat alerts to change your seat should a better one become available.

(Sorry I couldn't provide the links to these sites as I am in the a part of the country that doesn't allow me access to include hyperlinks in my blog. Technology is great until it's not.)

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How to get a good seat on your next flight.

Nobody in their right mind wants to sit in the last row of any airplane where one is constantly listening to the toilets flush or the clanging and chit chatter of the flight attendants in the galley not to belabor the point that the seats do not recline. So how do you get the best seat available?

Check out the following websites: SeatExpert.com and SeatGuru.com.

Both provide seat configurations of most planes, but the advantage Seat Expert has over Seat Guru is that you can sign up for seat alerts to change your seat should a better one become available.

(Sorry I couldn't provide the links to these sites as I am in the a part of the country that doesn't allow me access to include hyperlinks in my blog. Technology is great until it's not.)

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Three websites that are bound to make traveling with children easier. Check 'em out.

My kids are all grown, but I wish I’d had access to these great family/kid-friendly websites. Whether you are going on a car trip, cruising the high seas, flying over the pond or venturing to Asia, these websites offer tons of invaluable tips.

”We just got back” is written by a mother of three. She’s a former travel writer and editor and has won several awards and appears on and in the national media.

As a mother of three myself, I identify with the problems involved with traveling in odd numbers. A family of five generally needs two rooms instead of one, two taxis instead of one, etc. At some point, it makes one re-examine if maybe you should continue having kids to even out the number or should have stopped at two. (Just kidding Erika.)

Another site that is well worth a visit is ”Family Vacation Critic”. Here you will find info on kid-friendly resorts, beaches, cruises, skiing packages and more. Another feature is tips on travelling with kids according to age brackets beginning with 0 (newborn) to 13 plus (teens).

From a Brit's point of view, log onto ”Kids can Travel". Here you can find cheap flights, best time of the year to travel and more insider traveler tips.

My tips? Always travel with a jar of peanut butter for the picky eater in your family. No matter where in the world you go, you will always find bread, but not necessarily peanut butter. Don’t forget to pack something special from home that reminds kids, they will return to the nest. And, realize that a long trip abroad can be overwhelming to a younster. Of our three grown kids who have circumvented the earth twice, only two still love to travel. The other one prefers home sweet home! (Sorry Adam.)

If you have any tips for traveling with children, please post them below.

It is always great to hear from readers, Gloria

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Too many Standing Around (TSA) ranks cut.

Of course, we all know that TSA stands for the Transportation Security Agency, but when you see the numbers of uniformed non-working employees standing around at TSA airport security check points, it makes passengers wonder about the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency.

This week 43 TSA workers were fired or suspended at Southwest Florida International Airport for not not doing their jobs. Conducting random secondary searches.

For me the really crazy thing is the statement made by TSA spokesman David Castelverter:

“It’s the random secondary (check) that did not happen,” he said. “At no time was a traveler’s safety at risk and there was no impact on flight operations.”

Huh? Then what's the big deal? I'm not a proponent of how the agency operates and this latest comment only solidifies that there must be a better way. Can one even begin to imagine the money spend on this so-called security agency that was so quickly amassed in fear after 9/11.

Time to think it through guys. Even you admit it's not working or worse yet not needed.

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Kids fly free, or do they? Here's what you need to know when flying with children.

First of all kids no longer fly free, unless they are under two years old and sit on a an adult's lap. If you have a car seat and want to strap them in, you will most likely pay the adult fare for that seat.

The current controversy is that American Airlines is charging families to sit together.

They charge extra for aisle and window seats, so if you need two or three seats together, you have to pay extra. If you've flown on American Airlines lately, you can hear finger nails scraping down the blackboard as they are slowing going under cutting every way they can. (Serving water out of gallon jugs? Really!)

Their approach seems to be: “How can we make more money and not go belly up?” I'm guessing that's at the root of making families with small children pay extra.

But, as the airlines continue to gouge passengers for every little extra so they can make an extra buck, other airlines could follow American's lead and most likely will.

However, some airlines still discount seats for children under the age of 12, but the charges are not uniform between airlines so you need to check with individual carriers.

For great advice on traveling with children, check out this link.

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FB isn't the only way to post vacation photos online for family and friends. Try this.

Hey guys, you’re missing a great chance to share your vacation photos with family and friends. You can post them in the Anchorage Daily News’ “Vacation gallery” for free and share the link with family and friends.

Here’s the short way. Just go to the right-hand column of this blog under “Gloria’s photos”. Scroll down to Reader-Submitted “Vacation shots” and click on the “submit a photo” link. You’re there.

Or if you want the long route:

Log onto the ADN home page
Go to “Photos” in the blue menu
Drop down to:"Reader submitted"
Click
Scroll down to: “Reader-sumitted-Vacations
Click
Scroll down to “Submit your vacation photo”
Click
At the top of the photo that appears, you will see “Submit your vacation photo”
Click
Fill out the form and submit.

Hints for a safe journey. 1) Convert the JPEGs you submit to Kilobytes (500 or less) Don’t submit in Megabytes. 2) Be sure to click “agree” to ADN terms.

It will take a day or so for editors to make sure your photos are family friendly before they are published. Once online, you can post the link to friends and family…Enjoy!

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Volunteer travel, is it for you?

Wow, when I started to research this blog on volunteer travel, I found the subject is much, much more complicated and controversial than I had imagined. I started with a Google search, but after page 25 decided that much more is needed than just a little blog on the subject. Here’s a meager try anyway.

A few years ago, my husband and I looked into volunteering overseas and were astounded to find that many organizations wanted over a $1,000 a week plus expenses such as airfare, food, etc. That’s from you, not from them. Of course, I expected the airfare and paying expenses, but donating $1,000 a week a person or more. Please.

Why? It seems that since the early 90s ”volunteering” has garnered so much interest that people have invented many ways to get volunteers involved at a profit. Theirs not yours.

Also many young people who are taking a ”Gap Year” are now interested in doing something more that the old fashion bumming around Europe for six months.

Weather you are going on a gap year or just want to spend your vacation helping others, there are organizations that offer the real deal, but you will have to dig. I enjoyed an article in the current Volun Tourist Newsletter. The organization also provides a list of reputable organizations to contact.

There are, however, other ways of helping. Having traveled extensively for more years than I care to admit, I deal with philanthropy in a different manner. I always take an extra hundred dollars to dole out along the way to people I deem in need. They are normally not the beggars, but can be. I listen to my heart.

On our recent trip to Burma we revisited a family we met over 15 years ago. We brought some western items they couldn’t begin to get in their own country plus school supplies, digital cameras we no longer use, flashlights and a variety of other items. We also left the family good ole American dollars.

If you have the good fortunate to travel to less fortunate countries know that you will meet kind hard working people who appreciate a helping hand. Even if it’s as measly as your empty water bottle or extra pair of Crocs or tennies. You don’t need an organization or middleman to give. You can always give of your time and money independently.

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Planning to take Fido or Fluffy with you on your vacation? A few things you need to know before you go.

I've traveled with pets in the past i.e. taken a hamster and beagle to Spain when we moved to Madrid. Both made it in great shape. But, Moonshine the hamster nearly didn't make the trip as we didn't tell the airline beforehand that he/she (?) would be accompanying us.

A kind ticket agent made an exception also making it possible that our daughter who was determined not to go unless Moonshine went, came along too.

Many airlines, including Alaska Airlines, allow small animals to accompany passengers in the cabin. Larger animals travel in a “climate controlled baggage” compartment. I emphasize this because be aware that some animals have frozen to death.

At the bare minimum, you must make a reservation for your dog or cat if they are too large to take on-board and will be traveling in the climate controlled baggage area. Every airline is different, so it is up to you to call ahead and make sure the airline is aware you will be traveling with your pet and also what the specific requirements will be.

A few things the airline may specify are the type of kennel used. My heart was breaking for a family that was told in Anchorage that their kennel didn't meet the airline requirements. Fortunately, the airline had a kennel that could be substituted. It's stressful enough for most animals to fly and you don't want to add to that stress.

Other common things an animal might need is a current health certificate and if the airline needs to transfer it to another airline. Some airlines won't transfer animals.

Also be very careful if you tranquilize your pet. More than one pet has died due to being too heavily sedated. Sorry! It's sad, but true.

There are websites you can check, some better than others. I like Bring Fido.com. It's easy to navigate and comprehensive. Others are PetsWelcome.com and DogFriendly.com that is not very current.

Since most of us travel on Alaska Airlines as our flight of origin, be sure to check their webpage.

I've seen comments on the web that you can't take your pet to Hawaii, but that doesn't appear to be true. You can, but need to be aware of their government requirements. There has never been a case of rabies reported in Hawaii and they want to keep it that way so your animal could be quarantined or released to you the same day.

If you do ship a pet in cargo, be sure to make it comfortable by putting its name on the kennel, putting a blanket or pillow inside and a piece of your clothing for the comfort factor as well as food and water.

Have any hints for fellow travelers? Please comment below.

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Five things you need to know before taking your international trip.

Before you go checkout these five tips!Before you go checkout these five tips!

1. Your Passport – It seems like a no duh, but people actually do forget their passports, either entirely such as not even getting one or not taking it to the airport for departure.

Something many people may not realize is that your passport should be more than six months within its expiration date. So check out your passport's expiration date and have anyone who is traveling with you do the same.

2. Do you need a visa? - Visa requirements are getting less strict, but some countries such as China and others in Southeast Asia still require visas. Getting a visa means sending your passport to the country's embassy or acquiring it at the border. Be sure to know if you need a visa and how to obtain it, or it can mess up your whole trip.

3. Fine print – What are cancellation requirements and fees. You do not want to be stuck with money down the drain for not reading or knowing an airline's, hotel's or tour's cancellation policy. Read the fine print.

4. Travel Insurance – Sometimes travel insurance is almost as expensive as a ticket or tour itself. Determine if it is really necessary. I always have travel insurance for health through a company called Squaremouth, but given the high cost of insuring other aspects of my travel, I don't bother.

5. Airline luggage allowances – Since all airlines are different, be sure to determine what your carrier/s charge. It may be worth it to pay for an extra bag, if the carrier you are flying on limits you to 15 kilos. (Many small carriers in Southeast Asia do.) And if you plan to have hotels do your wash, at $4 for a pair of trousers or woman's long pants, the cost could easily pay for an extra bag or extra poundage allowance.

If you have a traveler's tip, post it below. Happy travels, Gloria

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If you are flying internationally, should you check out your air carrier’s safety record?

Yes, is the short answer. This week's crash of Bhoja Air’s Boeing 737 killing 127 souls while attempting to land in Islamabad is a heads up to international travelers.

On a published list of the world’s most dangerous airlines, Pakistan Airlines ranks number 7.

Was the crash of Bhoja Air due to poor maintenance of an old airplane? Pilot error? A UFO encounter? Or something else? No one knows yet.

What we do know is that old planes are sluffed off to poor countries such as Pakistan that are trying to start their own airlines or implement an existing one. It is also know that when flying outside of the United States or the European Union, other countries are not well regulated, if at all.

Conde Naste Traveler states,
“As long as you book a flight on an airline operating out of the U.S., you can be sure it has passed an FAA safety audit. But if that flight connects to an airline not operating in the U.S., you will need to check the extensive blacklist published by the Europeans. Even then, the E.U. only has power to ban airlines flying into European air space, which leaves hundreds of airlines that are not caught in either of these two safety regimes.”

On our recent trip to Southeast Asia when flying between countries or internally, we chose one airline over another entirely based on the equipment the carrier flew. It’s especially important to be discriminate in China, whose airlines have at best dicey safety records.

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Check out these five Alaska summer road-trips to start planning now

# 1: Kathleen Lake, Kulane National Park outside of Haines Junction, Yukon.# 1: Kathleen Lake, Kulane National Park outside of Haines Junction, Yukon.

If you’re like me and I know I am (as my daffy friend says), I don’t get around Alaska much in the summer or often enough as noted here. When I have and do, here are my top five favorites.

1. Top of the list is driving along the Alaska Highway. I authored a book on the highway years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite northern destinations despite I’ve been more times than I can remember.

Head out of Anchorage on the Glenn Highway, following it to the Tok Cut-off. When you reach Tok head south on the Alaska Highway. It’s hard to get lost, but there’s so much to see along the way it can be slow going.

If you have the time, make your destination Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, Canada, (don’t forget your passport). Here you can find lodging to enjoy the surrounding area or if camping, stay in Kulane National Park and Reserve at the Kathleen Lake campground. Lots of hiking nearby and canoeing and kayaking on the lake. One summer we spent three weeks camped in one spot. Heaven. (Last trip five years ago.)

2. Denali National Park and Preserve is a must for all Alaskans and it’s so close for most of us (240 miles from Anchorage). Take the Glenn Highway out of Anchorage and turn off on the George Parks Highway until you reach Denali Park. You can book campsites or accommodations in advance and then take the shuttle bus into the park. Rain or shine, it’s one of Alaska’s gems. (Last visit 12 years ago.)

3. Denali Highway from Cantwell to Paxton, 209 rough, spectacular miles. A turn off from the George Parks Highway (Parks Highway) this is a true Alaskan experience since most of the road is dirt. This highroad gets you off the beaten path and has absolutely amazing views on a clear day, plus tons of wildlife. This is one of the places where I really feel like I’m in ALASKA. (Last visit 10 years ago.)

4. The Alaska Ferry crossing Prince William Sound. You can board with your vehicle from either Valdez or Whitter. It’s a poor man’s cruise ship with fantastic scenery. You’re likely to see whales, puffins, otters, eagles and other unidentifiable birds not to mention more glaciers than you can count on two hands.

It’s a great family trip and one the kids won’t forget. (If you need a book and don’t mind an old one by this author check out Paradise of the North, Alaska’s Prince William Sound.) Last visit 25 years ago.

5. Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark located in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve comes in at number five. It’s also off the beaten path.

Take the Glenn Highway to the Richardson Highway then go south on the the Richardson turning east onto the Edgerton Highway to Chitina and on to McCarthy, a three or four hour drive on a paved and gravel road. Here you can hike to your hearts content (Rover will love it too). Kennecott is a mesmerizing historical place that takes you back in time and I hope to visit again. (Last visit 18 years ago.)

Well guess my summer is booked if I return to all my favorite places. Get out your map and plot your trip now to one of these “don’t miss sites”.

Most of us don’t spend a lifetime in Alaska and one shouldn't leave without visiting each of these places at least once, least we miss the real Alaska mystique.

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TSA has good news if you’re 75 years or older, 12 years or younger or a member of the military…

In concert with the TSA’s mission of providing a “risk-based, intelligence-driven approach to safety”, if a passenger is 75 years or older, 12 years old or younger or a member of the U.S. military, going through security will now be easier.

A month-long pilot program for seniors at some major airports has proven to be successful in shortening TSA lines, especially in Florida which boasts a senior population of 600,000 thousand.

So what do seniors get in exchange for making it to 75? At security you will not have to take off your shoes or lightweight outerwear and only go through a metal detector or an Advanced Imagining Technology (AIT) (x-ray) machine. If it is determined something is amiss, i.e. it appears you are carrying a sub-machine gun or atom bomb, you will need to go through the machine again, but it is no longer mandatory to submit to a groping.

In June of last year, the TSA decided that children 12 years old and under may keep their shoes on and if they set off the metal detector, they would not be inappropriately touched by an agent, but allowed to go through the machine again. The same procedure extends to members of the U.S. military who can present proper I.D.

As for the rest of the traveling public going through airport security, the TSA states:

"TSA is in the process of implementing new pat-down procedures at checkpoints nationwide as one of our many layers of security to keep the traveling public safe. TSA pat-downs are one important tool to help TSA detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives. Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, among others."

Remember, it is a passengers right to opt out of going through questionably “safe” machines, but if you opt out and are not in one of the above groups you will be subjected to a TSA pat-down or canine sniff-down or sniff-up depending upon the size of the dog.

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JetBlue to grace Alaskan skies, albeit just for the summer...

I was so excited when I saw a self-named travel Guru promoting the arrival of JetBlue beginning service out of Anchorage. Hip, hip hooray. Finally some competition I thought as the narrator spewed hype on all the new fares, however not noting if they were one-way or round trip (rt).

I bit and decided, hey am I living under a rock or what? JetBlue here in Alaska. When do they go, where do they go and how do I take advantage?

I popped onto the web and started googling JetBlue. No hype online. Just a one-year old press release about seasonal offerings (May 25 until September 4). Just like Frontier and other carriers that pop up in the summer like annuals and perennials. Shoot.

By the enthusiasm of the travel Guru, I was duped into thinking the service was new and comprehensive. Not new, it started in May 2011. Not comprehensive, one flight a day to Long Beach (1am departure) where you can connect to other destinations if your family or friends don't live in L.A.

But check it out. Maybe you're in the market for a good fare to Long Beach or connecting to Las Vegas. Plus you get one bag free!

I spent about 30 mins. on the JetBlue website and wasn't impressed, but if I were going to somewhere south or east of LA, I'd check it out.

Overall, JetBlue has skimpy offerings and a few skimpy fares. Dang!

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