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

Santiago, Lake Atitlan, beauty with a sharp edge.

Notice on the inside front door of the hotel.Notice on the inside front door of the hotel.

Today is my down day after two busy days of travel. I'm pooped, but totally enjoying a nice cool breeze here a top a mirador (outlook located in a little tower) glimpsing the serene blue, turquoise waters of Lake Atitlan.

We arrived yesterday in the lakeside village of Santiago at the Posada de Santiago where we will spend a few nights. Unfortunately, the place is so popular we have to move down the street for tonight and back again tomorrow. However, it is nice to get our smelly laundry processed and have a little time to contemplate and gather my thoughts. My husband is off exploring other villages along the lake.

I'm trying not to get too physiced out by the notice on the front door of the restaurant (see photo above). Guatemala is still a dangerous place. Early this morning a couple was advised not to drive their rent-a-car to the national park without following a police car.

Bandits set up road blocks on the less traveled roads around the lake and relieve tourist of all their worldly goods. “You're okay in the towns and villages,” the fellow said, “but don't hike alone.”

The bandits are brutal and strike randomly. There are several foreign nationals living here (expats). One family packed up and left after they were accosted by machete, gun toting bandits on a Sunday hike down to the lake from a popular roadside overlook. Another head of a NGO researching tropical medicine moved out of the country after being held at gun point while hiking.

These are only two recent stories that were told with amazing calm by a local American resident. He added, “It's probably much worse in some places in the states.”

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If this is Tuesday, it must be Lake Atitlan

First view of Lake Atilan on our drive in from Guatemala City.First view of Lake Atilan on our drive in from Guatemala City.

Left at 7am this morning for our flight to Guatemala City from Flores, jungle to the lowlands. A driver met us at the airport and drove us three hours to Lake Atitlan. It has been years since we've been here and like many other places it's hard to recognize. It's no longer rural, but the lake is as beautiful as ever.

We walked around town today adjusting to our new environs in the highlands. Volcanoes surround the lake and it is majestic.

What has really taken me aback is the number of Americans on medical missions here and the number of missionaries entrenched in their call to help the locals.

It's a bit of a culture shock after spending a week in Mexico at Teotihuacan, the archeological ruins of Copan in Honduras and then to the remote Mayan ruins of Tikal.

Tonight I'm sitting in an American built hotel on the Lake. I'm surrounded by expats and have just consumed the best meal since I left home, a real close competitor to dinner at the Double Musky.

I even endured an aged hippie group playing guitars. One is the owner of this great place. All three have abandon their American lives for something they enjoy more. Freedom to be forever young. Some might call it not growing up, but who am I to judge?

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A down day in Flores, Guatemala

A small boat delivers a local with her fresh catch of fish right in front of our hotel.A small boat delivers a local with her fresh catch of fish right in front of our hotel.

Ah, the fresh breeze blowing through my hair on the veranda of our lakeside hotel in Flores, Guatemala. We arrived about 1pm after a short one-hour ride from Tikal.

After four days of hiking and climbing pyramids, we're ready for a little R&R before we fly out tomorrow to Guatemala, City and then drive to Lake Atilan for the next part of our journey.

While our stay at Tikal was wonderful and amazing, I'm glad to be out of the jungle and bare bones accommodations. I don't miss the bed bugs one bit and we'll have to get clothes washed as soon as possible before they rot. Everything we have is in a limp state due to the jungle's high humidity.

Right before returning to our hotel in Tikal yesterday, I commented on my last request to make our stay perfect. I wanted to see a Toucan flying in the wild. Meters outside of our hotel, you guessed it there was one lone bird hopping through a tree. I was thrilled and did several fist pumps. The perfect ending to a great stay.

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Tikal archaeological site, Guatemala, a dream come true....

The Gran Plaza in Tikal archaeological site, GuatemalaThe Gran Plaza in Tikal archaeological site, Guatemala

Tick it off the bucket list. I'm currently in the Guatemalan jungle, not far from where Survivor Guatemala was filmed, visiting the impressive, remote Mayan archaeological site of Tikal. It was one of the Mayan civilization's major cities south of Mexico.

It's not an easy site to visit. The ruins are a thirty minute uphill walk from the entrance via eroded steps and rooted ground. If it's raining, the hard mud ground becomes slippery as snot. (Sorry Mom, not a good description, but true.)

It is amazing to climb pyramid two and view the Gran Pyramid straight in front of you as in this photo. Today was extra special as I was the only one up there for about 30 minuets before two young men asked if they could join my meditation. Why not? I replied.

This is a little slice of heaven if you can ignore the buggly wugglies, snakes and crocs (not the shoes)! Hey this is the jungle and they come along with 90 degree temps and 90% humidity. Plus no air conditioning so you don't want to get downwind of many people. Amazing that I have access to the Internet if only for an hour.

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Bingo, Copan, Honduras, cha ching, cha ching!

The central square in Copan, Honduras.The central square in Copan, Honduras.

I'm one happy little camper right now. I'm in Copan, Honduras, a four hour bus ride from Guatemala City. It's what I've been looking for, a quaint village with lovely people.

I'm here for several days to visit the nearby Copan Mayan Ruins, visit a bird reserve with Macaw parrots and stay overnight in the nearby highlands on a coffee plantation. I'm feeling like I won't have enough time here, but I'm going to make the best of it.

Copan has a central square where locals gather and tourists gather to watch the locals. We aren't the only tourists in this village/town. It is popular with tourists from all over, Holland, Russia, and Australia to name a few. Restaurants abound as do good places to stay from bare bones hostels to a few all inclusives.

Copan is a quaint, cobble stoned town.Copan is a quaint, cobble stoned town.

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Semi-automatic fortified Guatemala City for an overnight...

We arrived in Guatemala City at about 4pm on Mexicana Airlines and rang up a B&B from the airport. They picked us up five minutes later. Pretty darn good. We are staying near the airport in Zone 13.

Guatemala City is known for its crime and tourists are good marks. We checked this out before hand on the State Department advisory list. Zone 13 is safe for tourists, but it is still suggested that you not venture out on your own after dark.

After checking in at the B&B, our host told us there was a good restaurant a half a block down and a half a block up. We changed clothes and went to leave.

She stopped us. Best not to wear watches, she advised. My small shoulder bag that crossed over my chest was also a no-no. She told us to carry only the money we would need for dinner in our pocket.

We squirreled away our meager belongings ($20 Timex watches) and my handbag in our room and passed inspection for our one block walk. It was six o'clock. Walking along the first half block we noticed a young man in a black hoodie jacket across the avenue. He was eyeing us. We picked up our pace and crossed the street sooner than we had planned. He started following and we walked faster until we made it to the corner convenience store next door to the restaurant. We looked back. He had disappeared. Probably because an armed guard with a semi-automatic rifle was standing in the parking lot.

These people are not kidding! There was another armed guard in the restaurant parking lot.

We sat down and ordered dinner and then began wondering how we would make the short walk back if this character was still around. Dinner would take us an hour or so and it would be dark by then.

You talk about intimidating and weird. Over a couple of beers we considered our options. The best option seemed to be ask the guard to watch us until we reached the end of the block and then hot foot it out once we were around the corner and within running distance of our B&B.

We did just that and surprisingly the guard was happy to oblige like people asked him to watch them everyday. Maybe they do.

The following morning on our way to the bus station we noticed armed guards all over the place. Guatemala is a heavily fortified city. Thank heavens we decided not to rent a car here and go by bus which has a fellow literally riding shotgun.

Hopefully the little village of Copan in Honduras will be much more restful than Mexico City and Guatemala City. While Teotihuacan was wonderful, driving in Mexico City and walking in Guatemala City are not my idea of vacations.

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Made it back to Mexico City and out to Guatemala...

I wish I could say that the drive back to Mexico City from Teotihuacan was nothing like the drive there, but I can't. With written directions from the staff at our hotel, we made it (via Hwy 132, 140 & 145) to the toll road (during the day) that was built to take vehicles straight to the Mexico City airport. Not.

The road went straight to the outskirts of Mexico City and plopped us on a four-lane avenue several miles from the airport. Major signage disappeared except for the occasionally small "Areoporto" sign so we kept driving straight. Then we saw airplanes, but no directions to the terminal.

The next thing we knew we were driving past the airport and into central Mexico City. We got off the heavily trafficed road and stopped to ask where the airport was. It was behind us. Like duh! But how did we miss the turnoff?

After an hour or so of weaving our way through back streets dodging trucks, vans, cars, dogs, street vendors and pedestrians, we finally found familiar terrritory. After visiting terminal 2 and then terminal 1, with the help of our lucky stars and a friendly taxi driver that gave us good directions, we finally found the rental car drop off.

I'm totally mystified how people learn their way around Mexico City. They must be born with a GPS in their head. Given the lack of signage, crazy drivers and crazy roads, I can't think of any other way they can navigate.

We are now in Guatemala City having landed a few hours ago. We're off via bus tomorrow for Copan, Honduras. This time we're leaving the driving to them! Hip, hip, hurray! (At least I hope so!)

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Teotihuacan, the pyramids outside of Mexico City, in photos.

Pyramid of the sun.Pyramid of the sun.

Teotihuacan is the largest and most famous archaeological site in Mexico. Indeed it is impressive as the above Pyramid of the Sun attests. Build around 500AD or earlier, mystery surrounds the former residents and the use of the sites sturctures.

Many cactus are subject to graffitti.Many cactus are subject to graffitti.
Hiking from the parking lot to the Pyramid of the Sun, this catus caught my eye. If you look real close you can see graffiti obviously a worldwide phenomen.

The Pyramid of the Moon is wider and shorter than the Pyramid of the sun, but equally impressive.The Pyramid of the Moon is wider and shorter than the Pyramid of the sun, but equally impressive.

As the sun slips to the horizon, shadows create changing colors on the pyramids. Tourists are last allowed on the grounds at 5pm and ushered out at 6pm

Catus are a large part of Teotihuacan's landscape.Catus are a large part of Teotihuacan's landscape.

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Mexico City traffic IS all it's cracked up to be...

I'm on the road again and currently staying at a lovely little hotel adjacent to the entrance of Mexico's leading pre-hispanic archaeological site, Teotihuacan or more popularly known as the Pyramids. The massive Pyramids of the Sun and Moon are North America's version of Giza's pyramids.

Getting here was a combination of patience, prayer and stupidity. After flying straight from Anchorage via three flights, we arrived mid-day and decided to pick up our rent-a-car a day early. After all it is only a thirty-mile drive to our hotel.

This was our first mistake. We had planned to overnight near the airport and pick up the car the following day so we would be well rested and have plenty of daylight to make our destination.

Our cardinal rule is not to drive in any underdeveloped country after dark. No problem we thought as we arrived at Hertz at 3pm. Two hours and three cars later we were ready to depart in our red tin can on wheels. We got directions to the toll road that would take us directly here. I had already purchased a ten dollar map and the attendant drew us another as well.

Straight away we found the roads were poorly marked and the driving culture something out of a horror movie. Cars and trucks speed whenever they can disregarding speed limits. They dart in and out of traffic like crazy motorcyclists. If they need to turn, they do so making cars coming in the other direction slam on breaks. Nobody gives way to anyone.

After about 30 mins, traffic became clogged and stop and go, but that didn't stop anyone from jockeying from lane to lane. Finally when it sped up signage was obscure to nil. We made several wrong turns having to retrace our steps losing precious time until sunset.

Finally we ended up on Highway 85, but couldn't find the Highway 85 toll road. We joined the throngs racing through small towns and trying not to get our butts run over. Highway 85, the one to our destination, somehow became Highway 136, then Highway 132 and then Highway 142.

We were totally lost and it was getting jet black. I began having visions of pulling over and sleeping in the car as the areas we had traveleding through were industrial or non-tourist. About 30 minutes later we saw the sign: Toll road to the Pyramids. We got on and within about 15 minutes we took a off ramp and five minutes later we were at our hotel. The Gods were with us.

We made it to our destination after three and a half hours of potholed and rutted roads, insane drivers and traffic that makes any freeway in L.A. a cake walk.

I did say earlier that part of getting here was stupidity and I standby that! We never should have started driving in Mexico City traffic at 5pm. (Please don't tell my mother.)

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If you missed the Independent Traveler's print story on Sunday’s travel page, click here…

A Navajo Indian dancer proudly stands in front of Monument Valley icons, the East and West Mittens.A Navajo Indian dancer proudly stands in front of Monument Valley icons, the East and West Mittens.

Some of you may have noticed I am now writing for ADN’s Sunday travel page. My stories are also posted online. They appear on the homepage under “Features” on the blue menu and “Travel” on the dropdown menu.

You can click here for the story that appeared on today’s travel page, “Monumental Monument Valley”.

For more photos click here.

For my posts from the road in Utah click here for the post from Monument Valley. For my Mexican Hat post click here and for the Arches National Park post, click here.

If you missed my first print travel article, “Rock formations, canyons the attraction in Southern Utah”, about my trip through Arches National Park and Canyonlands, click here.

I hope you enjoy the elongated version of my travel. Post me an e-mail at gloria.independenttraveler@gmail.com or send me a note through the question box to the right. I’d love to hear your thoughts…Gloria

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Be featured on ADN’s homepage with your travel photograph.

Don’t know if you have noticed, but the ADN is featuring photos from the ”reader-submitted vacations gallery” on its homepage.

Today, a happy couple taking a handheld self-photo is featured on the homepage under ”Vacation shots”. A beautiful Honolulu sunset shot adorns the right-hand column of the homepage in the ”reader submitted vacations" link.

Cick here to submit a photo or click on the homepage links.

Submit your photo now. You may see it featured on the homepage. The photos and photo galleries do rotate so be sure to check daily for yours.

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How to keep your sanity while going through airport security.

While it may not be possible, there are a few ways to avoid major hassles with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checks given the new increased level of security.

Most of my recommendations are commonsense, but sometimes commonsense flies out the window when you are dealing with a non-commonsense agency such as the TSA. We all know that if the left hand knew what the right hand was doing, they would have caught the Christmas Bomber long before he ever got on the Northwest flight bound for Detroit. Wasn’t that why the agency was created in the first place?

That being said, for you and me there are some simple precautions to take when venturing through the merky waters of the TSA.

1. Give yourself plenty of time to get through security.
2. Adhere to the existing rules such as only taking a quart bag with 3 ounces or less containers.
3. Keep your carryons to the limit of two, one normal sized and one personal item
4. Don’t wear a bulky coat or hat through security. Take it off or you will get wanded.
5. Stay calm. Chat with fellow passengers to take your mind off the wait and inefficiency. Ask them if they know what TSA means. Then say it means "Too many Standing Around".
6. Expect the worst. Long waits, few working agents, and stressed government employees (they are trying to unionize). The magic of this is that when things go better you feel better.

Review the Jan. 3 TSA press release for passengers at TSA.gov. Rest assured that they have “long-term sustainable security measures” now in place. (Are they talking about raising corn?)

For a good TSA rant, click on CrankyFlier.com.

For more security tips click here.

Would love to hear your most recent encounters good or bad with the TSA. Post a comment below or send me an e-mail through my question box on the right.

Happy contrails to you!

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Can I really get everything in one small checked bag?

Q. Can I really get everything in one small checked bag?

A. Yes you can, but it’s a trick. I can get everything into one bag, but small, being the operative word, I’m still working towards.

Every trip I take, I swear I will pack lighter the next time. I usually return with several items that never get used. Now with extra charges for checked luggage and the crackdown on carryons with most carriers limiting them to one carryon and one personal item, it’s imperative that travelers pack efficiently.

One of my favorite sites, OneBag.com, has a printable packing list and also tons of tips and links to other sites. It’s a good starting place to begin your packing challenge.

Sometime ago, I posted a over-packers guide to women’s wear blog. It’s worth a re-read, even for me as I continue to hone my packing skills.

My goal? A small bag that doesn't break my back when I wheel it through airports or lift it into a car.

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Need advice on traveling alone at 79.

Q. I'm in good health-having been to a lot of countries with husband and sometimes children--lived in Afghan and Turkey plus started out 10 yrs in Ak! Need advice on traveling alone at 79 years of age.

A. My advice is "do it". My mother-in-law started traveling on her own at 74 and didn't stop until she was nearly 90. It's totally doable. She did visit us when we lived abroad, but she would combine her visit with stays along the way. Plus she did trips on her own to other places.

I found a great web site that will give you lots of good information. It's A Very Senior Year Abroad The website has lots of tips and good links for you to start your trip planning.

Bon voyage!

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Happy New Years: Don't weight, travel!

Many of us top our New Year's resolutions' list with the goal to lose weight. Let's go beyond ourselves this year and gain an understanding of the world by traveling. (I realize that this is a cheesy connection, but hey, I'm cheesy.)

Travel to me is a way to understand and connect with people in other parts of the world. It's a way to gain appreciation of who they are and how they think. When I do this, I develop compassion and an understanding that we are all basically the same.

In a world crying out for peace, travel is one way to cultivate interconnectedness.

Happy New Year to one and all. Let us all reach out to our world neighbors through travel.

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How can I make my Bali honeymoon less expensive and still memorable? Nidhi from India asks

Q. How can I make my Bali honeymoon less expensive and still memorable?... Nidhi

A. Nidi, from the other information you provided in our e-mail correspondence, you said that you planned to be in Bali for five or six days. You said that you plan to stay at the Hard Rock Café hotel in Kuta for two or three days and that you also wanted to go to Ubud. Here’s what I would suggest.

After your stay in Kuta, hire a taxi or shared van to go to Ubud, which is about one and a half hours from Kuta. While Kuta is a happin’ place with lots a activities including belly boarding and boogieing in one of it’s night clubs, Ubud, located in the highlands, is Bali’s cultural gem where you can relax and take in wonderful spa treatments.

We stayed at the Tegal Sari, which is a fantastic reasonable priced small hotel. It is highly rated on TripAdvisor. I recommend that you book directly with the hotel at this website. We stayed in a wooden bungalow that was private and had a lovely terrace for viewing the sunset. Very romantic.

The hotel offers onsite massages and also has an offsite facility that offers a wide variety of spa services at reasonable prices. You can also go to traditional Balinese dance performances in the evening, which are a don’t miss. There are several good restaurants around the hotel and in the center of Ubud.

Check out my posts from my recent visit to Bali. I have five posts will give you the flavor of Kuta and Ubud. Cick here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Bali in Photos.

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage. I hope you have a wonderful time in Bali, one of my favorite places.

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Merry Christmas wherever you may be...

A time for thanks...A time for thanks...

I am home for Christmas this year surrounded by family and friends. I hope that no matter where you are spending this holiday that it is blessed. I appreciate your readership and enjoy taking you vicariously on my ventures...Gloria

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Scotland posts and Sunday Travel Page connect…

Reporting from Edinburgh, ScotlandReporting from Edinburgh, Scotland

Some of you may have noticed I am now writing for ADN’s Sunday Travel page in the print edition of the newspaper. The stories are also posted online. They appear on the homepage under “Features” on the blue menu. Click “Travel” on the dropdown menu.

For the story that appeared yesterday, “No room at the Inn, Scottish B&Bs filled to capacity" just click here.

For the posts I made from the road click here for the post and photos from Edinburgh. For my money post click here and for the next post, North of Edinburgh on the eastern Scottish coast click here.

If you missed my first Sunday travel page print story, Rock formations, canyons the attraction in Southern Utah, about my trip through Arches National Park and Canyonlands, click here.

I hope you enjoy the elongated version of my travel. Post me an e-mail at gloria.independenttraveler@gmail.com or send me a note through the question box to the right. I’d love to hear your thoughts…Gloria

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Check this list twice before you leave your home alone.

Dark days and dark nights plus holidays are invitations for break-ins. Secure your house before you travel.Dark days and dark nights plus holidays are invitations for break-ins. Secure your house before you travel.
Before you go-
1. Get a vacation stop on the newspaper.

2. Order a vacation stop for trash pickup. (If gone for two weeks or more.)

3. Alert neighbors to keep a watch on the place and ask one kind soul to collect your mail or you can ask the post office to hold your mail. Be aware that some people have had trouble with the Post Office not following through.
4. Lock all outside doors and windows.
5. Make sure security system is turned on.

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If I need additional oxygen onboard, will the airline provide it, one reader asks.

Q. My spouse and I are flying to New York for the holidays and I wanted to know if there is oxygen on the plane. We don't want to take the oxygen machine with us?...S

A. Yes and no. There is oxygen on the plane, but it is only used in case of an emergency. There are two types. Oxygen masks are used in case of a drop in cabin pressure. They automatically drop from a compartment above your seat. This oxygen cannot otherwise be accessed. The flight attendants demonstrate the masks during their safety demonstration before takeoff.

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