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

Check out this website if you want to catch a wink at an airport.

I was surfing today for airline news when up popped a very unique website, SleepingInAirports.com. It offers a plethora of advice for travelers wanting to doze off.

In a recent survey the website conducted, travelers entered their two cents voting for the best and worst airports to be stuck in.

On the 10 worst list, I wasn’t surprised to see Los Angeles coming in at number four right behind New York. And this list isn’t U.S. exclusive. Paris’ Chares De Gaulle was number one and Delhi was five out of the worst five.

I also wasn’t surprised that Singapore’s Changi airport was number one on the “Best Airports” list.

Unfortunately, I have found that many U.S. airports including JFK, LAX and Miami are decaying. The terminal ceilings in Miami are leaching water and barely hanging in some areas.

Gate areas at Los Angeles’ Tom Bradly airport are either hot and smelly or freezing cold and smelly. A major revamp is on the drawing board, but given the State’s economic crunch (giving “I owe yous” to welfare recipients) I doubt any reconstruction will happen anytime soon.

When I visit countries like Mexico and find beautiful, modern structures it makes me shutter.

If you’re a travel trivia buff like I am, check out SleepingInAirports.com to see how your favorite or despised airport fares.

Maybe your favorite or worst didn't rank. You can add it in the comment section below.

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Track flights at one of these websites

Flight tracking map courtesy of FlightAware.com.Flight tracking map courtesy of FlightAware.com.
I recently returned from Denver and my husband could track my flight all the way back instead of constantly checking the estimated time of arrival (ETA) with the airline.

Three nifty websites, FlightAware, FlightStats and FlightView, give you the same capability that some airlines provide onboard or on some airline websites like Alaska Airlines.

At these websites you can pull up a live map that tracks the position of the plane for most major airlines. You get the actual time of departure and the ETA once a flight has departed. Plus other goodies like longitude and latitude if you are into stats.

You might want to play around with the three as I found there is a difference. For example each site showed a different ETA for the flight I was tracking. There was a ten minute difference between the earliest ETA and the latest.

Also, each site is constructed a little differently and personal preference can determine which one you like.

I found FlightView easiest to use. It had fewer clicks to get to the live map and stats. FlightAware is glitzy and maybe over time I’d get to my online destination quicker. FlightStats was relatively easy to use.

If you have a favorite tracker I’m missed or you like one of the three better than the other, please let me know in the comments section below.

Gloria

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TravelFlash: Pet Airways gets your beloved Fido or Fluffy from point A to B safely and comfortably, but book in advance

Our beloved Piper who only likes (sort of) small plane travel.Our beloved Piper who only likes (sort of) small plane travel.In today’s ADN print edition there is a front-page story about Pet Airways, the first airline that caters to pets only.

Why you might ask would anyone cater to such a small niche of travelers? Trouble in the hole!

For a few of the hazards associated with flying your pet in the cargo compartment, check out my Feb. blog.

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"Palin Smalin", I'm sick of being asked. Can you help?

I'm currently in middle America on family duty. And just like during my recent seven-week trip in the UK followed by my seven-day Alaska Inside Passage cruise, the moment someone finds out where I'm from they ask about Palin.

I've had it. In the pre-Palin/VP nominee/enigma period, comments went something like this.

"Wow, you're from Alaska. Have you ever seen a bear?"

"Is it cold year round?"

"I've always wanted to go there. What's it like?"

I was in heaven as I love to talk about Alaska and educate the ignorant not to mention make people as jealous as possible. However, that has all changed since 0808.

Now comments go like this:

"What's Palin doing?" (Yesterday.)

"What does Alaska think of her?" (Haven't taken a poll.)

"Is she crazy or savvy?" (You got me.)

I'm exhausted and sick and tired of being associated with such a complex person. I yearn for the pre-Palin era when I could just talk about my state.

If anyone can help me explain our governor, please let me know by commenting below. I know people won't stop asking, so please give me some material.

Thax, Gloria

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Did I like my Inside Passage cruise?

Hanging out on the deck. My favorite activity.Hanging out on the deck. My favorite activity.

If you’ve been ready my blogs about this cruise you may be scratching your head wondering if I had fun. Yes I did. Will I go on one again? Probably not.

Of the nearly 1,100 souls on board, my cruise partner and I made up a handful of cruisers who don’t do the normal things. We hung out on the decks, rain or shine.

We didn’t gamble. We sat on our veranda with a nice bottle of wine and whale watched. We missed one of the two formal dinners and we didn’t even take in a show, but I did go on the ship’s kitchen tour. Instead, we had a great relaxing cruise and enjoyed glacier viewing and meeting a whole bunch of really neat people.

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Inside Passage ports of call through this Alaskan’s eyes

It feels surreal seeing how our ship dwarfs its surroundings.It feels surreal seeing how our ship dwarfs its surroundings.

So Haines didn’t get my stamp of approval as a port of call along the Inside Passage. It just doesn’t have its act together. Now Juneau and Ketchikan do, but that’s not saying I enjoyed them that much either.

Both stops have the cruise ship calling business down to a science and most cruisers I talked to were happy, happy, happy. Why? Shore excursions were topnotch and shopping was “heavenly”.

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Is Haines really a port of call along the Inside Passage

Haines the first port of callHaines the first port of call

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the past two days cruising Prince William Sound’s College Fjord and Glacier Bay. Today is our first port of call, Haines followed by Juneau and Ketchikan.

I'm anxious to get out and explore the town. But I won't participate in cruise ship culture, shopping.

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Glacier cruisin' cruise ship style…

A beautiful morning in College Fjord.A beautiful morning in College Fjord.
My first two days on Holland America's cruise are at sea. Destinations, College Fjord day one and Glacier Bay National Park, day two.

Of course, the ship is a destination of its own. Talk about a Vegas on water or a mega floating four-star hotel, it is both. I’m traveling with a non-cruiser on his first trip. This is my third. We are both die-hard campers and totally non-five star travelers. I’m anxious to see how he will do.

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The bottom drops out for last minute Alaska cruise bookings...

A great way to get to Seward for a cruise or to make the ride a destination of its own.A great way to get to Seward for a cruise or to make the ride a destination of its own.

A few months ago I mentioned that Alaska Inside Passage cruises were a great bargain. On Tuesday the bottom fell out and I impulsively booked one leaving five days later, today.

Crazy? Maybe, maybe not.

If you are flexible enough, you can't beat the prices starting at $349 for a seven day cruise. I met a couple from Houston, TX, on the train to Seward this morning, who are late bookers too. They set their vacation days for this week and didn't know where they would end up going.

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Does David Letterman’s slutty flight attendant comment annoy you? Speak up flight attendants.

Hey what did you mean our governor looks like a “slutty flight attendant” David Letterman? Who do you think you are? Come on up to Alaska and we’ll take you down 4th Avenue if you want to talk “slutty”, but don’t you dare compare hard working flight attendants to sluts.
Photo courtesy of Yahoo.com Bettmann/Corbis. (Not me!)Photo courtesy of Yahoo.com Bettmann/Corbis. (Not me!)
Actually last night when I heard his comment, I thought he said “sweaty flight attendant”. Now that could be true, because it’s a “tough” job.

I know, “been there, done that”. Admittedly, when it was easier prior to 9/11, prior to 1990, prior to jets (just joking). Suffice it to say a long time ago, B.C. (before children). It was hard work then too. (Well sort of, if you think working two days followed by three off is hard.)

Today, it’s another game. Just have a look at one of YAHOO’s lead stories today. This anonymous flight attendant only has seven ways to get annoyed. I’ll bet there are more than that.

Flight Attendants you should be up in arms over Letterman’s comment. Comment below. And comment below if you have more than seven ways to get annoyed. This blog's for you!

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Heading north from Edinburgh...

En route to Crail, a tiny fishing village, on the eastern coast north of Edinburgh.En route to Crail, a tiny fishing village, on the eastern coast north of Edinburgh.

Getting out of Edinburgh city center proves to be a challenge. Due to construction of the tram many streets are unavailable. We’ve hired (British term for rented) a car for the next 18 days. Coupled with driving on the wrong side of the road and miniscule signage, we’re hoping to not have an accident within the first hour.

We booked our car on-line from Alaska. Good thing, as others who have waited until the last minute, are out of luck.

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TravelFlash: Watch out for ATM and credit card fees when traveling overseas...

A kilt in Scotland will cost you more if you use your Bank of America credit card.A kilt in Scotland will cost you more if you use your Bank of America credit card.

Before you whip out your credit card to make a purchase while traveling overseas you better know how much more it is going to cost you. Since the economic crunch, or as the Brits put it “getting crunched”, credit card companies are piling on extras.

For instance, you will be charged a fee for making a purchase in another currency. On my Bank of America visa card, it is 3%. Both your credit card company and the owner of the ATM machine will also charge you for using your card in an

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Edinburgh enchants visitors with its history...

The Edinburgh Castle presiding over the city.The Edinburgh Castle presiding over the city.

We arrived in Edinburgh by train from Liverpool after visiting friends for a couple of days in England. Train travel in Britain is fast and efficient. We watched the clock tick down by the second to 11:30 am, our departure.

We made one change during the four-hour trip in a small village where we stayed on the same platform and caught the connecting train in eight minutes. Unfortunately, the train was packed and there was hardly room for our luggage.

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British pound gaining on the dollar, making the UK even more expensive

Typical street shot in Britain.Typical street shot in Britain.

Finally back home and just in time as the British pound is gaining strength against the dollar.

We decided to go to the U.K. this year as the pound sunk to a twenty-five year low in January. The rate was 1.3630. Today it is 1.6384.

In short if you were to change $100 US into pounds at the January rate you'd get 73 pounds, but today you'll only get 61 pounds.

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Posting on the train from Edinburgh to London now...

Yo, finally after six weeks I'm connected, but it's anyone's guess for how long. The signal has been up and down.

I could complain, but whizzing along at about 120 mph on a train with WiFi passing ancient castles, country villages and green rolling hills, makes me think twice.

One thing the UK has that the States doesn't is a great mass transit system. On time, fast, efficient, convenient and cheap if you book ahead.

While WiFi isn't reliable, mass transit is and I wouldn't want to choose between the two given the ease of getting from one place to another.

Since posting this will be at dial-up speed, I'm going to make this short. More about my UK trip in a few days.

Gloria

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Virtually wireless in Scotland...

I have found one place in the world where Internet access is very difficult, hence no blogs for sometime. I'm in the Scottish Highlands. It is beautiful and remote, with small villages dotting the area.

A highlight was my search for Nessie. I didn't see her. Loch Ness is beautiful and I wouldn't surface with all the gawking tourists around either.

Because Internet signals are unreliable and most don't like Apple computers like my G4 laptop I'm very frustrated. Currently, I'm blogging from a computer repair shop. No problem with the computer, just the signal and lack of access.

It's a great trip and I have lots to relay, but will have to wait until I'm back in Internetland.

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Canal boats for hire in the UK...

A canal boat approaching one of the many bridges on the Llangollen Canal.A canal boat approaching one of the many bridges on the Llangollen Canal.

We've just completed two weeks on the Llangollen Canal navigating our narrowboat through northwest England and Wales.

A friend from the UK told us about floating these inland canals years ago. Given the favorable exchange rate of the dollar to the pound this was the year to go.

Our planning began with research on the web to determine the company to rent from and the canal to float. We decided on Maestermyn boat hire and the Llangollen Canal.

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Canal boating in England...

Our 48-foot narrow boat.Our 48-foot narrow boat.

This is really fun, if not a bit dicey. The canals in England have been transformed from working canals to leisurely canals where one can float over 3,000 miles on inland waterways.

Canals were first used to transport goods in the 1700s. When the railways were built in the 1800s the canals became obsolete. In the 1960s they were revitalized for pleasure cruising.

It has become a very popular activity and today the canals are sometimes clogged by the many narrow boats charting their way through the rural countryside.

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Traveling in the UK...

I have been remiss in posting as I am cruising the inland canals in England and Wales. It is very rural and there is virtually no Internet access. I'm currently at a library in Ellesmere, a tiny village on the Llangollen Canal about a four to six hour train ride from London.

Will post as soon as I find accommodating Internet access.

Gloria

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Post your Easter vacation photos here...

Vacation Photo Gallery

Are you enjoying an Easter vacation? Post your photos in the Vacation Shots gallery?

It's always fun to see where and how Easter is celebrated in other places. If you are traveling, post your photos.

Go to the reader-submitted photo page by clicking here. Scroll down the page to "Vacation Shots" gallery, have a look and then post your own.

You can also click on the Vacation Photo Gallery just below the title of this blog or to the right of the blog.

Happy Easter...Gloria

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