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. email@example.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
Posted: March 31, 2012 - 6:00 pm
Managed by Customs and Border Protection, the Global Entry program can make it much easier for approved travelers to enter the United States. To qualify, you must submit an application, pay a $100 non-refundable fee and submit to an interview and fingerprinting at a participating airport.
Your background will be scrutinized to make sure you are a "low risk" traveler before you enter the program. Once in, each time you return to the United States or enter Canada who participates in the program, your background will be checked again.
You will not receive a card, but there are kiosks at 20 international airports in the United States. The closest to Alaska is the Seattle's SEATAC airport. Given our lack of international flights in and out of Alaska, most of us will go through one of the approved airports.
You also must attend your interview in person and once again Seattle is the closest spot. Acceptance into the Global Entry program automatically qualifies you for TSA's Precheck program that I wrote about in my last blog.
Your acceptance is good for five years and if you are a frequent international flyer, it certainly seems like a good idea. I've spent hours in immigration lines and hope that this new program works as smoothly as it is touted.
For an additional heafty fee, you can use a private agency called ImmigrationVisaForms.com to help you through the process. If nothing else, their website provides some good information for free.
Posted: March 25, 2012 - 9:48 am
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is trying something new. A TSA Precheck program geared at prescreening passengers for quicker security processing at airports. John Pistole, head of the agency says, the behemoth is trying to become more intelligence based in its approached to screening for terrorists. As a guess, screening toddlers in wheelchairs, grandma’s depends, and cancer victims prosthesis is just not working that well for the agency or maybe it’s the bad press. Who knows?
The new thought is a prescreening process that allows elite members of the flying public to prequalify for streamlined screening when they get to the airport will help move lines along.
If your application into the invited program is approved along with a $100 fee, you can enjoy going through a shorter line along with First Class fliers, crews, congressmen and other elite travelers. However, you will not be required to remove your shoes, jacket or laptop and liquids from your carryon making security a breeze. But wait, there is a catch. You may be singled out for a random search.
Right now the TSA Precheck program is only available at select airports and airlines. American Airlines and Delta are the first to participate. Why? Because, they are the only airlines that make available their frequent flyer lists to the TSA.
Please do not confuse this selection of participants with profiling. Remember, we don’t profile in the United States. The TSA explains the program is for lesser risk flyers.
(More in upcoming blogs on the Global Entry Program, special treatment for the military, elderly and children under 12.)
Posted: March 20, 2012 - 11:28 am
(I tried to put a link here to the YouTube video that went viral, BUT the "Tribune" claims a copyright and pulled the video from YouTube. Talk about tacky?)
If you haven't seen this video, check it out here. (England's Daily Mail still has the link to YouTube, just scroll down. Guess the talons of the "Tribune" don't extend outside of the States.)
I am an outspoken opponent of the TSA and this insane search of a three-year-old is one reason.
Here's a bit of what the rest of the world thinks of our airport security too: England’s Daily Mail
When is enough, enough???
Posted: March 17, 2012 - 5:30 pm
If you have been following my blog, you know that I have been visiting Southeast Asia, particularly, Thailand, Laos, Burma and Cambodia. Along the way, I ran into many independent travelers some of who were desperate for money, a room or an air ticket. To help avoid the pitfalls others have made, I’ve made a list of the most common mistakes these travelers made.
Before I list them I’d like to qualify a few of the tips. Southeast Asia is still backward in many places despite things like WIFI available in Bangkok taxis that make you feel you have leapt light years forward. Not. If you are going to Burma, you will have a difficult time even getting on the Internet.
ATMs are touted as the best way to get money when you travel. Not. There are ATMs in many major cities, but they may be out of money, cost you a fortune to use (user fees, taxi to get there), and not available in rural places or all countries .
Don’t rely only on travel books that in general are written at least a year before they are published. Things are changing rapidly. Check for forums on the web or with a friend who has recently traveled to Southeast Asia.
This being said as a reminder that you will not have the comforts and ease of travel you would have in the good old US of A or Europe, here are five things to take very seriously.
1. Money – It may be obvious, but you can’t afford to run out of money or have your traveler checks or credit card rejected. The American dollar is your surest bet. It is accepted everywhere and you get the best rate of exchange. BUT, make sure the money you bring is “spotless”. It needs to be new, no tears, no rips, no writing, no folds.
A $100 bill gets the best rate of exchange, but you need small bills too in case you can’t change a larger bill. Small bills also need to be new, no tears, no rips, no writing, no folds (yes folds). I cannot emphasize this enough. We met a couple who couldn’t change their money in Burma and were begging other travelers to take their less than perfect dollar bills.
2. Credit Cards – Bring a credit card as a backup, but make sure that your credit card is accepted in the country or countries that you are going to. Call your credit card company, but don’t necessarily take their word for it.
Cash is still you best bet. Why? Many countries will not accept credit cards issued by US banks. Also credit cards in Asia have a four-digit security code, whereby most in the states have only three. My husband couldn’t use his Bank of America Visa card (three digit), but I was able to use my American Express. When we returned home we found out that his card had been cancelled due to a fraud threat after the fact, another hazard with using a credit card.
3. Airline tickets – if you plan to buy tickets overseas, know that you may have to pay cash. In Burma, you can only buy air tickets when you get there and you must pay cash. This deletes your cash supply very quickly if you haven’t planned ahead. We were able to buy tickets from Thailand to Cambodia on a credit card, but know that all countries and airlines are different. Check before you go.
4. Limit luggage– Packing a big backpack or 50 lb suitcase, think twice. All airlines except Alaska Airlines from here to Seattle only allowed us between 15 and 20 kilos or 33 to 44 lbs, but we could have two suitcases. All airlines, limited carry-ons to 5 or 7 kilos (maximum 15 pounds) AND they weighed them. Anything over, we had to check…Know that overweight charges can be outrageous some were three US dollars a pound. The tickets may be cheap, reasonable or expensive, but excess weight charges are crazy. Know your airline and pack light. Some airlines will let you pay in advance for extra weight, which saves you a bundle at the airport checkin where agents are inflexible.
5. Travel visa – Many countries like Thailand and Hong Kong no longer require visas, but others do like, Laos, Burma and Cambodia or China. Make sure you investigate the countries that require visas and how to get them. As for Burma you have to send your passport to the Burmese consulate in Washington, D.C. and allow two weeks for processing. In both Laos and Cambodia you can get them on arrival, but you need to take along passport photos. Check online for visa requirements. Or you may arrive in Burma and be exported on the next flight out at your expense.
This list is not comprehensive, but should you be planning a free-lance trip to Southeast Asia, it will give you a head start and may save you a headache or two not to mention lost travel time and money. It’s a great place to visit and I highly recommend it, but do think ahead.
Posted: March 11, 2012 - 3:09 pm
The above image was taken of a table filled with anti-communist literature in front of the entrance to the Star Ferry in Kowloon (Hong Kong). I lived in Hong Kong during the Handover to China in 1997 after which many were convinced that Hong Kong would lose all of its freedoms and autonomy. This didn't happen.
I was stunned a week ago when I saw the these protests regarding communistic rule and also in a separate display right outside of the Star Ferry entrance protests against the Falun Gong violence in China.
I talked with the volunteers and asked if they were afraid. They said the protests are approved by the government for every Saturday and Sunday. Despite the apparent accepting attitude of the government I applaud these very, very brave people.
Posted: March 4, 2012 - 2:09 pm
Hong Kong is split into two separate areas commonly all referred to as Hong Kong. One area is properly called Hong Kong Island and the other Kowloon located across the harbor in the New Territories on mainland China.
When I first visited Hong Kong in 1969, all tourists basically stayed on the Island and took the Star Ferry across the harbor to Kowloon which shared it border with communist China. Tourists were met by rickshaw drivers hawking rides to shops and restaurants.
Today, Kowloon is every bit as modern as Hong Kong Island. Hermes, Channel, Tiffany and all high end shops beckon tourists with fat wallets. Today most of those tourists are the mainland Chinese who cue in lines outside of the shops waiting their turn to enter.
For those of more meager means, a walk along the promanade (free of charge) is just as invigorating especially at sunset.
Posted: February 25, 2012 - 6:29 pm
The ruins of Angkor Wat outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia have been existence for about 1,300 years according to anthropologists. Today after years of neglect, the site has been rediscovered and has become Southeast Asia's latest hot spot for travelers.
For anyone interested in ruins, Angkor Wat is a must and now is the time to visit. Why? Siem Reap, the jumping off spot, near the entrance of Angkor Wat is growing at break neck speed to keep up with the increase in the number of tourists.
Unlike other popular sites in Southeast Asia, Siem Reap has kept most of its charm. On days when one is not exploring the World Heritage Site, the city is a fun respite from the large crowds that tend to descend on the site.
Posted: February 20, 2012 - 7:38 pm
Okay, it was weird. It was spooky. Not everybody will do it, but I'm glad that I did. And lucky me, I was the first customer of the day so the fish were really, really hungry.
It took me about five minutes of my 30 min., $2 massage to leave my feet in the tank for the duration, but viola after my massage, my feet were deliciously soft and not one toe was missing.
Posted: February 16, 2012 - 8:08 pm
I am so happy to report that the people of Burma/Myanmar that I have been in contact with from vendors, to taxi cab drivers to hotel personnel to waiters and waitresses from Yangon/Rangoon to Bagan/Pagan are all hopeful for things to get freer and better in Burma.
Their hope lies in the chance for their beloved Aung San Suu Kyi, nobel peace prize winner, to be elected to parliament in the upcoming elections.
The fact that she has been released from house arrest and the fact that she may be running for election is amazing. On my last visit here over 15 years ago, people couldn't even speak her name in public without fear of retribution.
Yesterday I visited a friend and walked out of her home with a gift. A picture of Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Even six months ago, this wouldn't have happened," my friend told me.
Let's all hope that these peaceful events continue. No one deserves it more that the people of Burma.
Posted: February 14, 2012 - 9:59 pm
Burma or the government's new name, Myanmar is forging its way forward into the Western world, but things are slow on some fronts. Social networking is one.
I can't get onto my Yahoo account nor on my gmail account, but I can post this blog. Strange! I also can't get onto my Facebook account.
Internet access is quite slow and unreliable, but at least I can find out what is going on in the world such as the recent bombing in Bangkok (where I will be in three days) and the fact that icon Whitney Houston has passed.
I do have access to CNN international, RT (Russian TV), the BBC (God awful boring) and old, old, old G rated HBO movies via satellite in my hotel room.
While most locals don't have running water or electricity, nor adequate housing, life for the tourist isn't all that bad, unless of course you are addicted to social networking, which I am thankfully not.
P. S. Hi Mom, Everything is okay.
Posted: February 13, 2012 - 12:07 am
I sit on my terrace and marvel at this beautiful temple that was built a thousand years ago. On the grounds of my hotel are several smaller temples in different states of ruin, but all still mesmerize me.
Over the next week, this will be my home while I explore mostly by horse-cart and driver this fascinating land dotted with well over a thousand temples and pagodas built over a thousand years ago.
Posted: February 8, 2012 - 3:23 am
It is Burma's most sacred Buddhist site and thousands of devotees visit every day including hundreds of monks, both male and female and of all ages.
Situated on a hilltop outside of city center, the Shwedagon Paya is visible from almost anywhere in Rangoon. The tall stupa is painted gold and covered in gold leaf as are many other structures on the large site.
At night, lights draw attention to this magnificent structure.
Posted: February 4, 2012 - 7:41 pm
The falls are extensive with many pools and cascades. Some are designated as areas where one can swim, but there's always some yahoo who goes independent and swims in areas the park is trying to preserve.
Oh and did I mention the crowds. Tons and tons of people, but despite the hoards of tourists, the falls are worth a visit.
Posted: February 3, 2012 - 1:34 am
What always amazes me when I visit a Buddhist country such as Laos, is the passion people have for their religion. The people are Buddhist first and nationals second. Coming from a county where money usually comes first and religion somewhere down the list, it is fascinating and impressive.
To honor Buddha, the people of Luang Prabang have built temples where they worship. Many have gold relief artwork and gold leaf guilted statues.
Posted: January 28, 2012 - 7:46 pm
After the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and the dirty dusty streets of Vientiane, Luang Prabang nestled in central Laos, is a welcome respite. However, the downside is that it ha been discovered and in short order will be overrun by tourists from all parts of the world.
What does one do in Luang Prabang? Relax, walk around the local markets and eat. Of course, there are excursions too, but I will save that for later. Right now I'm content doing basically nothing other than visiting a few of the wonderful Buddhist temples.
Oh did I mention the beautiful sunsets over the Mekong River?
Posted: January 23, 2012 - 5:21 am
I haven't been to Thailand for several years and I'm happy to report that the temples here in Bangkok are more splendid than I remember. In the 90 degree, 90 percent humidity heat I can only tolerate being out “templing” for about three hours.
I'm starting with a visit to Wat Pho and its amazing reclining Buddha.
To make things easier, I'm taking a riverboat taxi down Bangkok's main artery, the Chao Phraya River.
While river taxis are incredibly crowded, they beat the headache and cost of trying to go by taxi to anywhere in Bangkok anytime of the day.
Posted: January 21, 2012 - 1:51 am
After thirty hours elapsed time (twenty in the air) flying to SEA to catch a flight to Taipei, flying back over Alaska, three hours on the ground in Taipei then three hours to Bangkok, two hours in customs and an hour-long traffic clogged drive to my room, I made it!
Then I did something I tell everyone not to do. I ate street food! My trusty travel guide (book) said it was okay and it looked sooooooooooo good. I gobbled down my favorite chicken satay with a side of Pad Thai, in Thailand no less. It was delicious.
The following day I felt a little nauseated, but then who wouldn't after my long trip. I made myself a fried egg for breakfast as my rented room had a kitchen. So far so good. It wasn't until after a restaurant lunch and four hours later that everything came rumbling up. I was sicker than a dog.
The following day I spent in bed, but was happy to be alive. Upon reviewing my gastronomic choices, I'm now convinced I jumped to the wrong conclusion. It wasn't the street food.
It was the incredible edible egg, but not this one! It's the only food that my healthy friends didn't eat.
Posted: January 1, 2012 - 4:53 pm
“Where are your favorite places to travel?” I am often asked. Below are places I’d go back to in a heartbeat.
Rajasthan, Northern India: India is one of my favorite countries and I have visited several times. Rajasthan remains my favorite venue for the following reasons. The people are fantastic. The culture is varied and interesting. It is like no other place in the world, very, very different. The major problem is getting there. It is really, really far from the States.
Tikal archaeological ruins in Guatemala are truly magical. Buried in the jungle, the large site remains off of the beaten path and fairly hard to get to, but once you are there you are encased in a gone by era. There are three good hotels on the grounds near the entrance and it’s a must to stay longer than a day. I stayed five including travel to and from Guatemala City by air. (Don't bother visiting the dirty, crime-ridden capital.)
Departing from Guadalajara via bus, I visited the cities of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, and Monterrey. Central Mexico is one of my favorite travel destinations. The people are wonderful, the culture is vivid and it’s the Mexico you don’t see at seacoast resorts and border cities. It’s the real Mexico.
Yangshou, Southern China, is a picture postcard city where you can float the Li River passing by limestone pinicles adorning the shoreline. It’s the China of ones dreams with delightful people and tons to see and do. Fly out of Hong Kong and you can add extra adventure to your trip. Can’t wait to go back.
I could go on, but will save it for future blogs…Happy New Year and happy planning, Gloria
Posted: December 24, 2011 - 9:28 pm
It's 9pm Christmas Eve. and we are awaiting our only family member to join us to celebrate this holiday. No matter what Christmas means to you, it's a time of year to think about what is really important in life. A special time of thanksgiving. I find there are always things that are sad, but that on this holiday to remind myself there are more to be thankful for.
I am thankful for my family, for my friends, for my readers and for many, many other things too numerous to mention.
Merry Christmas to one and all...Gloria
Posted: December 17, 2011 - 5:47 pm
Don’t know if you saw the front-page ADN article on Dec. 10th regarding the “debut” of the new body scanners at Ted Stevens Intl. Airport. I did. And I was really disappointed that the reporter didn’t ask about the hazard of radiation exposure from the machines to travelers and workers.
The Alaska machines are the newest technology that use “millimeter waves” which emit non-ionizing radiation or terahertz waves. The only concern expressed in the article seemed to be privacy issues and since the new scanners “do not create a detailed picture of passengers” the reporter seemed content.
Anyone who flies a lot or a little should be aware of the potential danger both types of machines. The older technology found in the majority of machines in U.S. airports, use x-rays that emit ”backscatter radiation". The newer technology used in Alaska and a few other places uses millimeter waves, but the machines also emit radiation. The use of X-ray machines is one reason that the European Union discontinued the use of scanners using this technology on Nov. 14.
The jury is out on the long-term consequences of human exposure to both types of radiation. What is known is that backscatter radiation is deposited on the skin and that millimeter waves also know as terahertz waves can damage DNA.
One of my readers expressed this concern:
“The issue is also non-regulation, no average dose and no oversight. Who is calibrating these machines? These are highly dangerous medical devices. Hospitals calibrate them carefully. It turns out that no one is supervising them at airports, so we don't really know how big a dose we are getting. Furthermore, the personnel running them are not professionally trained medical technicians.”
I agree with my reader when she sums up the potentinal danger to travelers and TSA workers exposure to these machines: “I find it outrageous and infuriating. We don't know the effects, and of course, it will be difficult in the years to come to blame these machines as the cause of cancer, as the effects take years to manifest.”
I for one will continue to “opt out” and take a different mode of transportation when I can.
Note: I contacted the reporter who wrote the story, however, as of today, he has not responded to my e-mail.