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

Enjoy an Indian summer in Southern Utah's canyon lands

The Colorado River parallels Utah's State Route 128.The Colorado River parallels Utah's State Route 128.

Absolutely spectacular is the best way to describe my drive into Moab, Utah yesterday. I left Denver in my rent-a-car following I70 to the Utah border then turned off on State Route 128 at the recommendation of my geologist daughter.

The road follows the Colorado River winding through deep canyons. Designated as the Upper Colorado Scenic Byway, Route 128, is indeed worth diversion from the more popular turnoff Highway 791.

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Delta Airlines charged with hacking into e-mail account in attempt to derail the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act

Photo courtesy of Delta AirlinesPhoto courtesy of Delta Airlines

First its corruption on Wall Street. Do the airlines have their own form? That’s what the Coalition for Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights allege in a case that went before the Federal Court this week.

It is suing Delta Airlines for allegedly hacking into their founder’s, Kate Hanni, e-mail account to gain knowledge in order to derail the bills before Congress. The Coalition is actively soliciting Congress and passengers to pass the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Acts.

Currently there are four airlines passenger rights bills before Congress to protect passengers from enduring instances like the horrific delay of Continental Express when passengers were not allowed to deplane for six hours.

Have your own horror story? Share it in the comment section below."

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To cut costs, one airline suggests passengers go before they go.

The airlines continue looking for ways to cutback on costs. The latest idea comes out of Japan.

Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) is requesting that passengers use the toilet before they board to cut down on the weight of human waste deposited on the plane.

Less weight conserves on fuel, making the plane lighter. Burning less fuel results in less carbon emissions which is good for the planet.

Sounds like a better idea than Ryanair’s pay as you go plan. And toilet charges are not all Ryanair is planning.

Yesterday, CEO Michael O’Leary suggested that charges for airsick bags were being discussed. They are even thinking about passengers carrying their own luggage to the plane as a further cost cutting measure.

What do you suggest the airlines do? Post your suggestion in the comments section below. Be as inventive as you like, but keep it clean! This is after all a family newspaper.

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TravelFlash: Get an annual subscription from United for baggage charges.

Photo courtesy of United Airlines.Photo courtesy of United Airlines.

Yesterday United Airlines announced that it will offer an annual Premier Baggage subscription for $249.

Wow, how nouveau! Instead of paying $20 for my first bag and $30 for my second bag on United, I can pay $249 upfront so my first two bags travel free for a year.

Better do the math here. Unless you make five trips originating on United Airlines and check two bags each time, you won’t make out on the deal. Or if you travel big and or heay (overweight and oversized bags not included in the subscription), you may not break even.

It’s almost fun watching the airlines creative money raising strategies. Almost being the operative word.

Maybe we should all travel Southwest where “bags go free”. Then again Southwest doesn’t transfer your bags to other airlines so what happens then? And of course, as of this moment they don’t fly to Alaska.

Wonder if our quasi monopoly carrier will think about following United's lead. Anyone, anyone?

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TravelFlash: Alaska Airlines offers PFD Fare sale, $209 ANC to HNL good through Aug 2010 plus discounts to other destinations.

Alaska Airlines is offering great discounts to capture some of your PFD money with travel starting on Oct. 09 through Aug. 25, 2010.

Check it out and book now as seats are limited. Don't forget to read the fine print for travel restrictions.

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TravelFlash: Coming to an airline near you? Holiday “miscellaneous surcharges”.

The airlines have this little nickel and dime game going on to increase the cost of flying without officially raising ticket prices. They started with charges for a second bag. Then graduated to charging for the first bag too.

Next came the insane when Ireland’s Ryanair threatened to charge for toilet use. What’s next?

Miscellaneous surcharges over the holidays.

This past week, American Airlines led the way announcing it will charge an extra $10 "miscellaneous surcharge" for travel on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 29 and for flights on Jan 2 & 3. Delta, Northwest, U.S. Airways and United Airlines quickly followed suit. As of this posting, Alaska Airlines is staying out of the fray.

This recent charge has many of us asking, why not just raise the cost of a ticket and stop the piddly charges for this, that and the other.

You’d think that the extra work of agents making annoyed passengers pay for a first or second or both bags would have taught managers a lesson, but not! Management seems to lack logic or worse gets perverse satisfaction in making customers unhappy.

So beware of holiday surcharges and if you haven’t booked yet, now is a good time to make reservations on a carrier that isn’t taking the coward’s way out.

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Grab your camera and capture the fleeting fall colors...

A view of the Kenai River.A view of the Kenai River.

I left at 9am this morning in time to catch multiple pods of Beluga whales rolling, blowing and splashing in the Turnagain Arm along the Seward Highway.

My goal? To capture the fall colors before winds and rain diminish them to carpeting.

The trees were fluorescent in the morning sun and the skies robin egg blue. A perfect fall day.

After safely making it over the Turnagain Pass, I turned off on the Sterling Highway for Cooper Landing stopping for a gander at the swans feeding in Tern Lake.

Along Kenai Lake and the Kenai River, there were a handful of fishers decked out in heavy coats, hats and gloves trying their luck before the first snow blots out this little window of time.

The roads were virtually deserted and it was a great day to enjoy one of the best things Alaska has to offer. Unbridled, spectacular landscape.

If the weather Gods continue being kind to us, get out and see fall for yourself. Post your photos in the Vacation Gallery for all of us to enjoy.

Enjoy!..Gloria

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Finally a website that gives you good rental car rates every click…

I’ve just spent days trying to find the best rate on a rental car domestically over the web. It’s been a crazy ride. On Friday, I found a great rate on Expedia.com, but when I went back to book it the following day the rate was double. So I checked out PriceLine.com and found the same car for $150 over the lowest Expedia rate.

When I finalized my dates, I tried to book it on PriceLine and viola, it was $300 more. What in the heck gives? I wondered. Out of curiosity I started checking out other cities and rental rates. They were all over the place too, changing every time I logged onto the site.

Finally, I hit pay dirt at HotWire.com. Not only did I get a low rate compared to the other sites (anywhere from $200 to $300 less), I also got the same price consistently for the same city and same class of car every click.

I’m renting through HoteWire an Enterprise Rental car, that quoted me a price $300 more for the same dates and same car on their website, Enterprice.com.

It was a steep learning curve, but worth it. As a result of HotWire.com’s consistently low prices, my husband has decided to book a car for a trip that was going to be all air travel.

Have any tips for booking rental cars? Post them below.

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TravelFlash: Worldwide hotel prices slashed to five-year low, airfares following suit.

I recently posted that hotel occupancy rates in Hawaii are at record lows. It appears the trend is worldwide according to the latest hotel price index, which found average room rates fell 17 percent prior to June to a five year low.

There are really good last minute deals on hotels, packages and airfare. Two websites to check out are Kayak.com and airfarewatchdog.com.

Fall is considered the shoulder season for travel. Prices are lower than the busy summer holiday season.

With the worldwide economic crunch airline rates are sinking too.

Now is a great time of the year to visit Europe. Temperatures are not scalding the crowds are not stifling. And don’t forget winter activities such as skiing in Austria or France. Of course the holidays will be popular, but the shoulder season in February or March are equally as great snow-wise.

Questions? E-mail me at gloria.independenttraveler@gmail.com

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TravelFlash: Hawaii hotels at record low prices

If you have a hankering to visit Hawaii, now is the time. Hotel rates are at record low prices. In Honolulu the average room rate in July was $149.11.

All islands are effected by the slowdown in the economy. Bargains are to be had throughout.

The drop in rates is an opportunity to book higher end hotels at lesser prices, a trend travel researchers are seeing.

For me, I booked a three star hotel for my ten day visit in Honolulu. I booked directly with the hotel. When I found a smokin' deal at a five-star (only ten dollars a night more) two days before my departure, I was able to cancel my booking at the other hotel with no penalty. Had I not booked directly, I might have been stuck with a high cancellation fee.

I recommend surfing the web and then calling the hotel directly to see what kind of deal you can make. I was also able to negotiate a beach front room on the 33rd floor at no extra charge.

Questions? Drop me an e-mail at gloria.independenttraveler@gmail.com

Gloria

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Honolulu offers Alaskans a respite from reality…

Diamond Head from my catamaran cruise.Diamond Head from my catamaran cruise.

Some Alaskans don’t consider Honolulu a real Hawaiian vacation. Yet, others like myself, still find O’ahu a nice break.

Today, like the past seven, the waters are bright blue, the temp in the high eighties, and humidity bearable. Nighttime and early mornings are heavenly. Great times for walking or jogging.

I attended a five-day conference held inside, but found that just being able to look out the window or step outside into the warm tropical air, makes Honolulu a fine place to gather. Now I’m playing tourist.

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Exotic Hong Kong, revisited

Hong Kong harbor.Hong Kong harbor.

I’ve just spent the last two weeks in Hong Kong. Well not literally. I’ve been editing the travel mystery I’ve written: Hong Kong Hangover. I’m getting ready to pitch it at a writers’ conference in Hawaii this week, hoping to snag an agent or better yet, a publisher.

I’ve been visiting Hong Kong Island's Central district, Stanley Market, Wan Chai and the Island's neighbor across the bay Kowloon. I’ve made a trip to the New Territories sailing on a luxury yacht and taken the train to the border city of Shenzhen for a great day of shopping.

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Alaska’s best kept travel secret…

Powerline Pass at Glen Alps.Powerline Pass at Glen Alps.

It’s no secret to those of us who live in Alaska. It is the most beautiful place in the world on a sunny day.

Having been around the world twice, lived overseas for over 10 years and traveled to the far corners in between, I can’t think of a place I’d rather be at this very moment.

The trees are florescent green. The waters of the inlet calm. Yesterday, equally stunning, I heard coyotes howling while hiking along Power Line Pass in Glen Alps.

Your deck or the mountains, you don’t have to go far. Just get out.

Post a picture in our Vacation Gallery or e-mail it to me as an attachment at gloria.independenttraveler.gmail.com and I'll post it for you.

You can also click my e-mail address in the right-hand column under my bio instead of cutting and pasting from this blog.

Some people have told me they have difficulty uploading to the gallery. If you do, try lowering the resolution.

It's a great time to snap a pic for your screen saver. When winter socks us in you’ll warm up with sunny memories.

Whatever, enjoy what may be close to the last of this wonderful summer. The best I’ve experience in the 28 years I’ve called Alaska home.

Gloria

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Alaska's dirty little travel secret.

The Turnagain Pass rest stop facilities look great until you open the door.The Turnagain Pass rest stop facilities look great until you open the door.

Roadside toilets in Alaska have bugged me for years and I'm venting.

My latest and most consistent encounter is at the Turnagain Pass rest area. Given the lack of facilities between Anchorage and the pass, this is a major stop for small bladdered people or big time coffee drinkers.

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Upset with Alaska Airlines increase in travel companion fares and drop of annual bonus miles? Post a comment here.

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature cardholders got bad news in the mail yesterday. The airline is increasing its travel companion certificate from $50 to $99 as of Oct. 1. It will also drop its anniversary miles awards beginning in 2010.

This news has some cardholders seething. We Alaskans like our Alaska Airlines mileage plan, especially given the lack of competition when flying Outside. Combined with increased miles needed to book mileage tickets, this recent lack of incentives makes one question the viability of the card.

When I went the Alaska Airlines website to find more information on the increase even “ask Jenn for help” couldn’t find it, hence no hyperlink. Bank of America’s website doesn’t mention the increase either so maybe there’s time to protest this latest action.

If you’re too busy or annoyed to contact the airline directly, post your rant in the comments section below.

Maybe the powers that be at Alaska Airlines will see your comments and give we Alaskans a break.

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Rent your poolside lounge chair here.

No lounge needed at our private pool in Manzanillo.No lounge needed at our private pool in Manzanillo.

It sounds bizarre, but it’s true. Thomas Cook, a tour company, is pre-booking poolside lounge chairs and umbrellas for customers traveling to cooperating hotels in Egypt, Turkey and the Canary Islands.

The move is popular with European tourists who are known to race down to a hotel’s poolside at the crack of dawn and plop their towel on a primo lounge. Germans are most notorious for the practice and the new practice is currently exclusively for them.

Been there done that! Spent three weeks in Sri Lanka and found the practice is rampant. In the Canary Islands, saw many people-less lounges poolside covered in towels only to be occupied hours later. I wanted to slap around the inconsiderate jerks, but didn’t.

Hope Las Vegas doesn’t follow suit. As one commentator asks, where do hotels stop. $1 a cube for ice from their vending machines?

What have you experienced in your travels. Any rants or raves? Comment below.

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Be careful when you visit India by phone.

Peaceful in India, but not peaceful calling India.Peaceful in India, but not peaceful calling India.

I just wasted two hours this morning talking to a computer techie (?) in India. I bought an Acer Aspire One netbook and needed to download a anti-virus program.

What does this have to do with Independent Travel? I'm not sure other than I bought the computer for travel and I need a place to vent.

I've visited India numerous times and love the country so I'm not being culturally bias other than having high expectations for the people and their service. My experience this morning, however, would have deterred me from ever going there.

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Vacationing in Alaska? Post a picture in our vacation gallery, here's how..

If you are vacationing in Alaska, I'd love to see it through your eyes.

Post a picture in our vacation gallery. Just click here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on "reader-submitted vacation photos". Or click "submit vacation photos" in the right-hand column on this page.

I'd also like to know what you think, love it or not. Post a comment below.

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Singapore rules as expats first choice to live in Asia

Singapore expats first choice for Asia living. Clean, modern, safe and fun!Singapore expats first choice for Asia living. Clean, modern, safe and fun!

In a recent survey, Singapore the city/state ranked number one for expatriates' (expats) living pleasure.

This is no surprise to me. I lived in Singapore for over two years during the late 80s and have visited the tiny island state many times since. Today, Singapore isn’t quite as safe nor are the citizens quite as honest.

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Scotland's east coast villages…

A view from the top of a tower on the grounds near St. Andrews Cathedral.A view from the top of a tower on the grounds near St. Andrews Cathedral.

Note: Sorry for the delay in getting back to Scotland. Too much traveling! Below I continue with my journey through Scotland. To see former blogs scroll down the list on the right.

Scotland is a country of villages. The ones I’m visiting have not lost their charm. I particularly enjoy the quaint costal villages such as Crail where I have just spent two well-deserved nights.

Heading north we pass through St. Andrews and visit its world famous golf course that will host the 2010 British Open. Unfortunately it is raining and we can’t play the 18-hole miniature gold course called the Himalayas for all its little hills, located alongside the fairway of the first hole of the Old Course.

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