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.

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 Tequila Express...

Fine offerings on the Tequila Express.Fine offerings on the Tequila Express.

I spent the day in Tequila, not the bottle, but the town. I hopped the Tequila Express train from Guadalajara, Mexico, through the county side to the agave capital of the world, the town of Tequila.

The Tequila Express has its own station and its own color-coded cars. Passengers are known to get a bit tanked on the free flowing tequila so they are given placards which hang around their neck denoting the color of their designated car.

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You can never be too careful...

This woman has just made a purchase exposing her wallet which she is clutching.This woman has just made a purchase exposing her wallet which she is clutching.

I know that some of my friends are out of the country and traveling right now so I wanted to post this reminder. Be very careful with your money, i.d. and credit cards when you are traveling. Never keep them all in one place as to spread the loss if something should happen as it did to our friends yesterday.

We went with a couple from Australia to the central market in downtown Guadalajara. It attracts mostly locals, but tourists love it too. My friend purchased a couple of children's dresses in a shop and then continued to gawk and shop.

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Shopping local markets…

The sun and moon are popular local decorations.The sun and moon are popular local decorations.

We just spent the day shopping in Tonala, a town next door to Tlaquepaque where we are lodged, which is near Guadalajara in Central Mexico (in case you haven’t read prior blogs).

Tlaquepaque has gone upscale and caters to the wealthier locals and tourists. The main walking street is home to revamped buildings and tasteful boutiques. It's no longer a bargain shoppers paradise. You can find wonderful things to decorate your home or body, but you also pay wonderful prices to acquire them.

In nearby Tonala, know as the artisans community, you can shop for virtually everything from four feet tall leather covered jugs to pewter and handmade clay pottery. And if you take the time to filter through the offerings, you can get a bargain.

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This is a global election...

Election day, Nov. 4, 10 am, EST, Tlaquepaque, (Ta-lock-key-pock-key) Mexico.

“Live from Wasilla, Alaska where Sarah Palin is about to vote,” a reporter on CNN announces.

Oh really! When in the not so distant past has the American public or the rest of the world not had a clue as to the location of Wasilla, Alaska, or furthermore, known of Sarah Palin?

Now I sit in a village outside of Guadalajara, Mexico, in the central part of the country, hearing reports from my home state as if it is next door.

The election is big talk in Mexico. The locals are interested and concerned. A waiter last night asked us where we were from and then asked what we thought about the candidates.

His English was great. He had lived in New Mexico, but has returned to his home country to work. When I asked him his thoughts on the election, he answered, “The Republicans are nasty.”

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Day of the Dead in Mexico…

The main square in San Miguel Allende is filled with Day of the Dead displays.The main square in San Miguel Allende is filled with Day of the Dead displays.

Today is the Day of the Dead. Overnight altars have sprouted up to honor those that have passed. Yesterday, children were honored. Today, adults are remembered.

The Day of the Dead is celebrated throughout Mexico on Nov. 1 and 2. I am in San Miguel de Allende in central part of the country. The holiday is also celebrated around the world by different countries and different cultures from Latin and South America to Asia and Europe.

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Day of the Dead in photos...

Here are a few photos taken yesterday and today during the Day of the Dead holiday in San Miguel Allende, Mexico.

A statue in front of the Cathedral in the main square becomes an altar celebrating the Day of the Dead.A statue in front of the Cathedral in the main square becomes an altar celebrating the Day of the Dead.

A Day of the Dead display honors General Allende after whom the city was renamed.A Day of the Dead display honors General Allende after whom the city was renamed.

Sugar skulls and other items are sold by local vendors to decorate altars and displays.Sugar skulls and other items are sold by local vendors to decorate altars and displays.

Folk art commemorating the Day of the Dead is available year round.Folk art commemorating the Day of the Dead is available year round.

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Little America in Mexico...

Cathedral in San Miguel Allende's main plaza.Cathedral in San Miguel Allende's main plaza.

I’m now in San Miguel de Allende a colonial city of about 140,000, ten percent of whom are from the States and Canada.

This is my forth trip to San Miguel. In the past, I’ve neglected to stay long given my bias towards the large expatriate population. I generally prefer to be farther off the beaten path, but I am enjoying this visit.

The expatriate community has done a lot for San Miguel. Not only have they infused their cash, they are active in making things better for the local population. It is a nice blend of foreign presence and local culture.

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Silver country…

A stunning creation from Un Ick silver shop in Guanajuato, Mexico.A stunning creation from Un Ick silver shop in Guanajuato, Mexico.

I’ve never understood why the U.S. doesn’t have a gazillion Mexcian silver jewelry shops. Some of the most beautiful jewelry is made here and it’s inexpensive even compared to costume jewelry in the States. Today I bought three pairs of sparkling silver earrings for only $10.

Guanajuato in Central Mexico is home to many silver mines that flourished in the 1700s. The mines have produced over one billion ounces of silver, along with a substantial amount of gold. Most of the mines are now defunct, but you can visit two outside of the city, Mina De La Valenciana and Boca Mina De San Ramon.

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Hola from Guanajuato…

Guanajuato, a World Heritage Site, in Central Mexico.Guanajuato, a World Heritage Site, in Central Mexico.

I’m finally getting the summer I missed in Alaska. It is glorious. Bright blue sky, a dry 70 degrees plus, and warm and lovely people. Guanajuato, in central Mexico.

Getting here was not the most fun. Car, plane (3 legs) to Guadalajara followed by hair raising taxi ride and four-hours in a bus. Twenty-three hours in all to enter another world.

Gone are the annoying political ads and rhetoric. My shoulders have dropped and I’m sleeping like a baby.

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Air humor…

Okay so there is air rage indeedy, but there is also air humor. I think that flight attendants can set the tone, intimidating or relaxing, for passengers flying in their pressurized over-sized metal tubes.

I’ve been on flights with steely, pursed lipped, anal flight attendants that make you apprehensive to move, much less use the lavatories. They make it a cardinal sin if your seat isn’t upright or your tray table locked on their final walk though.

On the other hand, there are flight crews that just seem to love their jobs and make the time fly. I love 'em. They have a sense of humor and don’t go wacko if you don't react in a nanosecond to their commands.

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Tourist philanthropy…

Staying in a local's home helps support the family. Our hostess in Amantani, Peru.Staying in a local's home helps support the family. Our hostess in Amantani, Peru.

When I think of philanthropy, I think of Bill and Melinda Gates, but there are many small ways to give and help others if you’re a tourist visiting underdeveloped countries. I’ve paid for a year’s tuition for an elementary student (our guide’s daughter) in China, $125. We gave $100 to a young man in Burma to buy a horse and returned the following year to buy him a horse cart if he saved a matching amount of money.

Last year when we visited Peru, we stopped by Kausay Wasi medical clinic outside of Cusco. Our friends, Sandra and Guido Del Prado, set up the clinic to help rural people in the mountainous region who have no other access to medical care. As a result, we adopted two of their families, for only $200 each, almost the cost of a nice dinner out in Anchorage for two.

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Over-packers guide to women’s wear…

If this snow snap is filling your head with visions of surf boards and sandy beaches, you’re not alone. One hour of shoveling, and I’m ready to pack my bag, which brings me to the topic of this blog. Packing.

Efficient packing is more important today than ever before with airlines charging for a second bag. And, don’t forget your bag can only weigh 50lbs maximum or you will/may be charged a hefty amount for a “heavy” bag. Weigh it before you walk out the door to avoid embarrassment at the ticket counter of removing or redistributing items.

I am a self-admitted over-packer. I’ve gone to meetings and they’ve helped a lot, but I still struggle not to take more than I actually need or will use.

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Southwest Airlines outshines Alaska...

Forbes magazine ranks Alaska Airlines 6th in reliability study.Forbes magazine ranks Alaska Airlines 6th in reliability study.

Wednesday, Forbes magazine named Southwest Airlines the number 1 carrier based on reliability. Alaska Airlines came in 6th.

The magazine analyzed five years of data including passenger complaints, mishandled baggage, and cancellations and delays which were given double weight in the study given their impact on travelers.

Data was collected from the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the Department of Transportation.

In addition to traditional carriers, the study included discount, no frills airlines including JetBlue and AirTran. Surprisingly in addition to Southwest locking in first place, JetBlue placed 2nd. AirTran was number 4 with once defunct Continental Airlines 3rd.

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Trip planning 301…

Mongolia shares its border with Russia and China.Mongolia shares its border with Russia and China.

I just received the REI adventure tour booklet and I squirreled it away with my National Geographic expedition edition. I love these magazine-like publications, not that I would ever go on one of the tours.

They give me great ideas as to where I might like to go. Plus, when I do it on my own, I save the added cost for a tour. Thus I can stay longer, upgrade my accommodations or even visit a neighboring country.

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Air rage…

Put air rage into your search engine and you will come up with stories stranger than fiction. Have people gone loopy? You’d guess so after reading what some people do when they fly.

There’s the naked man who laid across three seats on an American Airline flight and had to be subdued by an onboard soccer team. Then there are the drunken women who tried to open an exit door mid-flight. And, a negligent mom who refused to contain her unruly kids and was kicked off a flight, before departure I assume.

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Trip planning 201…

A closeup of Diego Rivera's mural where he paints in himself and Frida Kahlo.A closeup of Diego Rivera's mural where he paints in himself and Frida Kahlo.

You can bump up trip planning a notch by getting a little creative. One of the most enjoyable trips I’ve taken was a “theme trip” to Mexico City. We based the visit on the 2002 movie, Frida, about the famous surrealist Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, portrayed by actress Salma Hayek. In addition we took advantage of the whole arts scene by visiting museums and archaeological sites.

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Trip planning 101…

Great books to help you plan your trip.Great books to help you plan your trip.

Awe fall! The time of year you settle in for the winter and get all the things done you let slide over the summer. For us, it’s spring vacation planning. But where?

One of the most important factors for us is weather. We both shoot travel photos for stock agencies and our major prerequisite is blue skies. Therefore, the next question is what’s the weather like at that time of the year. A click on my forecast weather web site gives me the historical weather data on a location so I can find out if it’s the rainy or sunny season.

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Palin’s Alaska…

Sarah and Todd spend a relaxing fall day at Potter Marsh disguised as swans thanks to the McCain staff in Alaska.Sarah and Todd spend a relaxing fall day at Potter Marsh disguised as swans thanks to the McCain staff in Alaska.

Does governor Sarah Palin own this state or what? She has created a media blitz like no other and put Alaska on the map for those geographically challenged or worse yet, those that thought we were part of Canada or Russia, which by the way she can not see from her front door.

She has the local media and state government offices on full alert with nary a moment to spare. Once obscure bloggers and writers are now mainstream, nationally and internationally known. So why shouldn’t I cash in Palinmania? Or at least give it a try. My contribution? Tell you a little about our wonderful state.

Alaska is a state of independent thinkers, or we like to think so, and independent travelers alike. Many folks like to visit us aboard cruise ships, but sorry, that’s not the real Alaska. The real Alaska lies in the heart of the state not the tail along the inside passage where cruise ships dock and usher passengers into cruise owned shops. Don't get me wrong. Southeast Alaska is beautiful too, but big wild Alaska begins in Anchorage.

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Day 7, 8, 9 & 10, Shorde Lake cabin…

Dismal weather lengthens our stay.Dismal weather lengthens our stay.
Sunday, Day 7, was a bust too, as were Day 8 and Day 9. Weathered in with no clearing expected in the near future, the couple with us had commitments and started to check out alternative ways out. Water taxies were a possibility by hiking a mile long rutted trail to Long Bay. However, it turned out the operators were closed for the season. Scratch that one.

The flying service told us that if it were clear to fly in from Cordova, Alaska, a town on the Sound the opposite direction of Anchorage, we could catch Alaska Airlines from there back to Anchorage for a mere $1,200 one way. Of course the plane in to pick us up would cost about the same. Plus we would have to send out the majority of our gear air cargo back to Anchorage at an additional cost. As you might guess, with all this good news people were getting cranky and a bit short-tempered.

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Day 5 & 6, Shrode Lake cabin…

Things started getting dicey on Day 5. The rain was not letting up. We got a couple of dry hours and thirty seconds of sun. The first since we arrived. My husband and I took the boat out and circled the lake. It was incredibly beautiful even with the pea soup sky above. We could only imagine how it would look on a sunny day.

The emerald green water of Shrode Lake, taken during a momentary break in the action.The emerald green water of Shrode Lake, taken during a momentary break in the action.

Shortly after we got back it started pouring again, dashing any hope that the storm system was on its way out. Very disheartening. For five days we had been musing ourselves with rising late, enjoying a comfort food breakfast of blueberry pancakes and fresh coffee. We then did dishes, read for a while and had lunch.

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