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

Ten stocking stuffers bound to please the traveler...

The Native Hospital gift shop in Anchorage has great tree ornaments like this one...The Native Hospital gift shop in Anchorage has great tree ornaments like this one...

I tried to improve on this list that I posted last year, but couldn't so here we go again. These ten items are still at the top of my list. When I saw the new low price on "plug adapters", I order two more. They are just way too handy and what else can you buy for 53 cents?

1. Tripod for point and shoot camera, for the person with a short arm trying to take a self portrait or for use when taking a timer shot.
2. A headlamp. This may sound more like a camper’s delight, but they are so handy when you travel, especially if you are traveling off the beaten path and are walking at night. You also can use a headlamp to read in bed or on the plane when the overhead light is way too dim or misdirected.
3. Mini flashlight to use in the middle of the night in your room so you don’t stumble or think the closet is the bathroom. (Don’t laugh, I’ve done that.)
4. Leg money pouch, to deter wise crooks. I met a couple in Peru that had to take off all their clothes when they were robbed, but what are the chances if you’re in a crowd.
5. Travel Alarm Clock. I think a girl or guy for that matter can never have too many travel clocks. When I’m not on the road, I set one for the time in Denver where my daughter lives and one for Nebraska where my mother and brother live. Make sure it has a face that lights in the dark.
6. Small folding travel bag. I always carry a small collapsible bag to put items in when I shop or to put items from my carryon into for easier access on the plane. That way I don’t leave my glasses case in the seat pocket nor do I have to lug down my carryon from the overhead rack to get my book or something else I need. I pack the small bag in the gate area and put my purse in it too.
7. TSA combination locks for your luggage. Like alarm clocks a traveler can never have too many. Use them to lock your checked luggage and also your carryon luggage. That way if the security dudes lose, cut or destroy the lock on your checked bag, you have an extra and don’t have to pay inflated airport prices. I always have at least two extra locks along. I also put them on my backpack and camera case too. Better to be paranoid than plundered is my motto.
8. A neck pillow. I love my beanie neck pillow. No matter what kind of airline seat I’m in, my head never feels comfortable . Plus my beanie neck pillow doubles as a bed pillow if I don’t like the one provided by my hotel.
9. A plug adapter. I take a travel hairdryer ($10 at Wal-Mart) and flat iron on trips. (Make sure they are dual voltage. Adapters don't adjust voltage, I leaned the hard way.) These multi-plug adapters can be used anywhere in the world to adapt their American style plug prongs to the local type used.
10. Travel Blankee. Since many airlines no longer provide pillows or blankets, you can pack your own. An alternative for the ladies is to wear a shawl. It works great as a cover and looks trendy slung over your shoulder when you're out and about.

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A reminder, don't wrap presents you want to carry onboard...

Yeah, I've done it before, carried a wrapped present through TSA security. Once.

The next time I tried, a TSA agent unwrapped my beautifully wrapped gift. So be forewarned and don't even give it a try. You can, however, place wrapped presents in your checked luggage, but TSA may do a random check on your luggage and unwrap them anyway.

For a list of items the TSA suggests you leave behind or place in your checked luggage over the holidays check out their website.

You may even get a chuckle as I did when they note: "You can bring pies and cakes through the security checkpoint, but please be advised that they are subject to additional screening." Like a TSA taste test? Boy those agents do have it good. Guess it gives them something do do while they stand around.

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What to do when your bag goes missing...

On my recent trip from London to Seattle, I picked up the wrong bag in customs and didn't realize it until the following morning. The British Airways counter was closed when I returned to the airport for my flight back to Anchorage. As a result, I had to ferret my way through the complex process of getting it back.

I wrote the story for the Travel page in newspaper's print edition that appeared on Sunday. If you missed it and would like to find out how I got my own bag back, you can read the piece on line. Just click here for the link. Or go to the homepage, click "Features" on the blue drop down menu and then click "travel".

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Gloria's travel list-before you go and at the airport. Post on your fridge.

Each year I review this list and add or delete items. Preparation to leave your home or apartment, packing suggestions, at the airport advice and on-board tips. Print it out and post it on your frig.

Before you go-
1. Alert neighbors to keep a watch on the place and ask one kind soul to collect your mail or have the post office hold your mail until your return. You can get forms at the post office.
2. Order a vacation stop for trash pickup. (If gone for two weeks or more.)
3. Get a vacation stop on the newspaper.
4. Lock all outside doors and windows.
5. Make sure security system is turned on.
6. Remove garage door openers from car in driveway and lock the door from the garage to the house. (Not paranoid, just good advice to avoid break-ins by more creative thefts.)
7. Set timers for lights.
8. Turn down furnace to 60 degrees.

Packing-
1. Check with your carrier to see how many bags you are allowed to check free of charge and how much or little you can carry-on. Policies differ.
2. Place identification on the outside and inside of your luggage. You’d be surprise how many “found” bags can’t be returned due to lack of owner’s specifics.
3. Weigh your bag, if it feels heavy. The maximum weight is 50 pounds for domestic travel. Overweight charges can be horrendous.
3. Make sure your bags are in good condition. I’ve seen bags with broken zippers and holes in the side. If your bag is ailing, get a new one.
4. Lock your suitcase with TSA approved locks.

At the airport-
1. Be there at least 90 minutes prior to departure, preferably two hours.
2. Get through security as quickly as possible to avoid showing up late at the gate.
3. Make sure to package all carry-ons (max. 3 oz.) liquids and gels in a one-quart zip lock.
4. Wear easily removable shoes, and socks to prevent picking up cooties on the floor.
5. Keep an eye on your laptop. 12,000 are lost each year at airports. Send it through screening last to avoid a dishonest person in front of you from nabbing it on the other side.
6. At the gate, get in front of the boarding line to assure space in an overhead rack near your seat.
7. Be kind to agents and flight attendants.

Onboard-
1. Find out in advance if food is available. If not, pack some goodies, especially if you are flying with children or more than one leg. Your connection time may not allow a food break.
2. Bring a small pillow and blanket if you get cold on flights or plan to sleep. (No more pillows or blankets on-borad.)
3. Pack a smaller bag in your carry-on and then load it while in the boarding area. I carry a reusable grocery bag for my book, magazines, water and whatever else I need to access while flying. I place my carry-on in the overhead rack and store the smaller back under my seat for takeoff and landing.
4. Be nice to the flight attendants.

Print and post this list on your fridge. Then follow Santa’s example and check it twice before you go.

Questions? E-mail me.

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Does the TSA allow me to lock my luggage?

TSA locksTSA locks

On my recent trip to Greece, I ran into a party of six from Kentucky who were also touring the islands. They reminded me of a myth that persists among travelers: One’s luggage cannot be locked.

This is totally untrue. The TSA originally recommended that passengers not lock their luggage. However, it is amisunderstanding since day one by the airlines and passengers alike that one cannot lock their bags.

You can lock your baggage, but if it needs to be searched, the TSA will cut off the lock if the lock is not a TSA lock. It's always been that way no matter what was said or continues to be said by the ignorant.

Why lock your luggage? If you don’t, you run the risk of it being riffled through en route. This type of theft is common especially in underdeveloped countries where security measures aren’t stringent, and where a nice looking suitcase from America can be a target.

As a secondary caution against theft, I always lock my suitcase when it is in my hotel room and I’m not. Why invite trouble?

It’s simple to deter theft by using TSA approved locks. After the initial TSA fiasco over locked luggage, a new type of baggage lock was developed. One that the TSA can unlock with a master key and then re-lock. Walmart has the best buy on TSA locks that I've found around $7. Whatever the price, however, they are worth it.

For the official verbiage on locks, go to TSA.

Then for heavens sake and yours, lock your luggage.

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Last day to take advantage of Alaska Airlines discounted fares.

This is not an ad for Alaska Airlines, but given that so many of us use this carrier, I wanted to remind readers that today is the last day of a great sale on tickets for travel between Dec. 06 and March 10. As usual restrictions apply so you need to read the fine print before purchasing.

For specifics, click here.

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Gift suggestions for your favorite traveler.

Stumped about what to get someone on your list? Here are some of my favorites.

-Neck pillows for onboard comfort are one of my favorites. I also use them at the hotel to supplement or replace a pillow that I don’t like.

I particularly like the bead filled type. I’ve had the buckwheat hull filled, the foam and the most uncomfortable blowup kind, but I like the bead filled most. I just bought two so I’d have a backup at the South Anchorage Walmart for $9.99 each.

-Document holders are also useful, but they have pros and cons. I like them for storing everything in one place. I don’t like them because if you carry everything in one place it’s a royal pain if you loose it. So I improvise.

I carry an empty leather document holder in my suitcase and then use it at the hotel to store my documents in the safe. I use a Neck pouch when I travel by plane, and put my cash and passport in a money belt when I’m traveling by bus, train or car. Airports are generally safer than bus or train stations which I feel need higher level of personal security.

-Of course, luggage is a dandy gift. There are so many different types to choose from, but remember if you get someone a 29 inch suitcase it’s quite likely that they will go over the weight limit of 50 pounds when they load it.

I like a 26 inch piece and I still get close to the fifty pound mark. I also prefer lightweight luggage that gives me extra pounds for packing more or buying things.

Since your baggage is rarely babied, look for pieces that are made of rugged durable material. Check out Sharon Luggage for high end luggage. Cabela’s, Lands’ End, L.L. Bean among others selll moderately priced quality luggage.

-If you really want to get creative you can buy Space Bags. No, you don’t travel in the bag, you pack in the bag. Space Bags are like big zip locks but studier. You put your clothing in them and suck or roll out the air. Walla, more space. BUT, make sure you don’t go overweight on your luggage. You can also pack them empty and fill them with souvenir T-shirts.

Don’t know what to put in a traveler’s Christmas stocking? Give my next blog a hit.

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Giving thanks to all ADN readers...

I'm sure I'm not the only one writing for the News that wants to say thanks to all of our readers. I do appreciate the feedback you give me and while I wish you would post more comments, hearing first person or via friends and family is enough to keep my posts going. Thank you.

A wonderful Thanksgiving Day to everyone...Gloria

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How was your TSA security experience on National Opt Out Day?

With all the hype on opting out of going through full body scanners, share your experience here.

Were there unusually long waits? Were many people opting out? Any complaints about the enhanced body pat downs?

Comment below or e-mail me through my question box on the right at gloria.independenttraveler@gmail.com.

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More on the dangers of backscatter radiation emitted by full body scanners.

The internet is hot with information on the full body scanner. The issue of backscatter radiation doesn't appear to be a priority for the mainstream media, but it should be.

Here's another point of view that doesn't correspond with the opinion of the TSA that the radiation emitted is negligible.

“Firstly, I'll say one thing: there is no such thing as a truly safe radiation dose. At a fundamental level, the main effect we need to be concerned with is high energy particles smashing into a piece of DNA and doing just the right amount of damage to cause the cell concerned to start doing something it shouldn't. If we get lucky, the DNA molecule is damaged enough that it's no longer viable, making the cell concerned no longer viable. No big deal, we've all got plenty of cells. However, if the particle impact has the effect of changing the information stored in the DNA, things can get weird. The cell can start reproducing wildly, carring its radiation-affected DNA programming with it and thereby causing all its children to go similarly bananas. Hey presto, cancer, leukaemia.” LiveJournal.com

(Click here for technical information.)

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Wed., Nov. 24, is National Body Scanner Opt-out Day, should you participate?

Of course, opting out of going through a TSA full body scanner is totally up to you. My suggestion is that you know the facts before you make the decision.

1. Will I get a unhealthy dose of radiation when I go through a full body scanner?
Not everyone is convinced that the level of radiation passengers receive is negligible according to the TSA. Some experts say it is 20 to 200 times above the level. David Agard, a biochemist and biophysicist, says "Ionizing radiation such as the X-rays used in these scanners have the potential to induce chromosome damage, and that can lead to cancer"

2. Are the machines effective?
This is another controversial issue. In an address to the Canadian government, Israeli security expert, Rafi Sela said, I don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747."

Check out this video from Fox News on the 19th, an interview with the former head of security of El Al airlines.

3. What are the reprecussions if I don’t go through the body scanner?
This is the most hyped and publicized aspect of the full body scanners, the enhanced body pat down. Should you chose to not go through the scanner or deemed unable to go through, you are submitted to a TSA agent feeling your bare behind, placing hands on your groin and foundling your breasts if you are a woman. It doesn’t matter who you are nor the fact that you are unlikely to be a potential terrorist.

In short, the U.S. government is in a reactionary mode. The enhanced pat down is in reaction to the Nigerian terrorist who smuggled explosives last Dec. in his underwear. Removing your shoes is compliments of the shoe bomber and the fact that you can’t fly with printer cartridges, a reaction to the most recent terrorist attempt.

There’s got to be a better way. Personally, I’m opting out and will have my travelling companion witness my enhanced pat down. (TSA allows a witness.) If indeed I’m sexually assaulted as some have been, I’ll decide what to do from there.

Remember, this is a free country and you have the right to choose. Except if you choose not to go through a potentially dangerous scanner which compromises your dignity and/or you decline a sexually invasive body pat down, your choice is made for you. You don’t get to fly. UnAmerican, if you ask me!

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Targets for enhanced screening are open invitations to TSA perverts?

Everyday more is coming out about the government's use of full body scanners and the new enhanced pat downs when passengers either opt out or cannot go through the scanner. Here's an incident I found online today.

An unsuspecting young mother with a special needs baby, was subjected to an enhanced TSA pat down. Instead she was molested by a TSA pervert. It reminded me of what I went through during a pat down.

For some reason when I go through Denver security, I'm marked for extra screening. Last year after going through the puffer machine, I endured a invasive pat down by a female TSA agent.

She told me to put my arms up over my heard and spread my legs. She proceeded to run her hands down the sides of my body. Then she ran her hands along the inside of my legs and when she reached my private parts she didn't stop.

I was startled and looked down at her. She gave me the creepiest smile I've ever seen. I felt she did it on purpose and was daring me to report her. I was shocked and angry, but knew that if I complained I would be detained and and possibly miss my flight. As it was they kept my boarding pass and when I got to my gate, I had to high tail it back to security to retrieve it nearly missing my flight.

And this happened before the new enhanced pat downs. I think this new procedures is an open invitation for TSA perverts to get their jollies with no repercussions.

What this new mother went through is outrageous. We can't standby and let the government and it's protected employees do this. I'm opting out of going through a body scanner and exercising my right to have a companion accompany me during my “enhanced” pat down.

For more information on body scanners and what you should know. Check out my other posts by scrolling down.

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Pilots’ unions advise members to avoid body scanners.

Given the health risks due to backscatter radiation, pilots' unions have advised their members to refuse security checks involving full body scanners.

It appears that the TSA has put the cart before the horse and ordered scanners without proper scientific evidence to prove that they are safe and effective. Now there’s some real fast dancing to rationalize the decision to spend millions and ignore the evidence that the scanners are hazardous and ineffective.

One security expert says they are “useless” and a waste of money.

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TSA body scanners, how safe are they?

There's lots of chatter on the web about TSA Advanced Imagining Technology (AIT), full body scanners used in airport security check points. More and more scanners are coming online everyday and you may be directed to go through one soon.

On TSA's website they are deemed safe, but not all scientific studies agree. Nor do all experts agree that they are effective. Ralph Nador and several senators have taken on the cause to make sure the public knows the risks.

“On August 6, 2010, three U.S. Senators objected to the DHS’s expansion of the airport body scanner program. In a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Senators Collins (R-ME), Burr (R-NC), and Coburn (R-OK) asked "why the Department continues to purchase this technology when legitimate concerns about its safety appear to remain unanswered." […] The Senators noted that "the issue of radiation associated with the backscatter x-ray AIT machines has not been adequately addressed by TSA." They urged the agency's Chief Medical Officer, working with independent experts, to conduct a review of the health effects on travelers and airport personnel.”

Fears are being echoed in other countries as well. London's Daily Mail reported that the government has underestimated the dosage of radiation by 20 to 200 times.

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Would you vote for dancing flight attendants?

Okay, Philippine airline Cebu Pacific has an interesting way to keep passengers interested in the safety demonstration. What do you think? Post a comment below.

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Stonehenge worth a visit…

Stonehenge, the infamous circle of standing stones.Stonehenge, the infamous circle of standing stones.

I am staying in Salisbury, England and have just made the eight-mile drive to Stonehenge. I’m not quite sure what to expect.

All of a sudden there it is. The monolithic standing stones out in the middle of a bright green field. It seems surreal as I’m heading straight towards them, but at the last minute I make a right-hand turn onto a secondary highway to the parking area.

Here I buy a ticket and cross under the road via a tunnel up to the field. I’ve seen this circle of stones in dozens of photographs and several documentaries, but being here is still exciting.

Like visiting Machu Picchu in Peru, little is know about why Stonehenge was built over four thousand years ago. There are many dirt covered mounds in farmers' fields that surround this monument just waiting to be excavated so hopefully some day we will know more. For now I’m totally enjoying the mystery.
It's surreal being here.It's surreal being here.

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The Cotswolds, storybook English rolling countryside at its best.

The rolling hills in the Cotswolds are home to thousands of sheep raised for their wool.The rolling hills in the Cotswolds are home to thousands of sheep raised for their wool.

It just couldn't get more beautiful that a sunny day in the Cotswolds. A designated ”Area of Outstanding Beauty” by the British government, they haven't gotten it wrong.
Million dollar mansions are easily found in villages through the Cotswolds built by prosperous wool barons hundreds of years ago.Million dollar mansions are easily found in villages through the Cotswolds built by prosperous wool barons hundreds of years ago.

We are staying in the heart of the Cotswolds in a little berg called Stow-on-the-Wold. We've found a delightful B&B in a restored farmhouse. The term B&B generally conjures the term “less-expensive” however with the British pound gaining toward two pounds for one U.S. Dollar exchange, costs are not reasonable.
Old churches of mammoth proportions are found in virtually every village.Old churches of mammoth proportions are found in virtually every village.

England currently is a very expensive place for Americans on a budget and I wouldn't have planned a trip here on its own. Since I am transiting through on my way home from the Greek Islands, I decided to stop and meet friends in the Cotswolds. I don't regret it in the least no matter how thin my wallet has gotten.
Villages can be seen from openings along the narrow country roads that are a hallmark of the Cotswolds.Villages can be seen from openings along the narrow country roads that are a hallmark of the Cotswolds.

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Why does AT&T lock owner's cell phones so that they cannot be used overseas?

A SIM card vending machine at Heathrow airport, London.A SIM card vending machine at Heathrow airport, London.
I recently posted a bog about taking my old Samsung cell phone to Greece and finding I was unable to insert a local SIM card due to the fact that AT&T had my phone locked.

I bought the phone from AT&T and then upgraded to a different model discontinuing the use of the old phone. I incorrectly assumed that I could still use my old phone when I inserted a new SIM card. Not! AT&T has it locked.

I've just arrived at London's Heathrow airport and found a vending machine for SIM cards and once again I'm angry that AT&T has my old phone locked.

Can anyone tell me why AT&T does this after I paid for my phone and use another phone on their network? In Greece and England phone providers do not lock the phones that they sell. Why does AT&T?

Is AT&T bilking its customers? My guess is a resounding, YES!

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Hooray, Chania, Crete the quintessential old Venetian enclave

Chania, Crete's  beautiful ancient Venetian harbor.Chania, Crete's beautiful ancient Venetian harbor.

I love Chania. It is a delightful town with a lovely harbor that you can actually stroll around or sit on a public bench and just enjoy. A nice change from the other two harbor towns of Iraklion and Reythmnon.

I've also found the perfect place to stay, Nostos Hotel. My room on the third floor has a commanding view of the harbor and the morning breakfast with fresh eggs and Greek yogurt starts my day with a smile.
View from my balcony at the Nostos Hotel.View from my balcony at the Nostos Hotel.
Fresh Greek yogurt with dates and local honey, fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee are served for breakfast.Fresh Greek yogurt with dates and local honey, fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee are served for breakfast.

Veneitan traders in the 1500s came to Crete and built mighty fortresses such as the one surrounding Chania's Venetian harbor. They also built many houses which line the back alleys and streets of Old Town, making it a journey back in time to wander them.
Warm nights and milky skies make nighttime a favorite time.Warm nights and milky skies make nighttime a favorite time.

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Where do I find the best airfares to tropical places from Anchorage?

Question:
Where do you find the best airfares to tropical places from ANC? A friend and I are considering a trip to Guam to visit another friend who lives there (to keep costs down). Have you been there? What are your top warm places? Thanks, Karen

Answer:
Karen, as for good/great airfares, I peruse the web. On my blog in the right-hand column, you will find links to Travelosity, Expedia, etc.

Since you live in Alaska and most likely have Alaska Airlines mileage, one options you might consider is using your mileage to Hawaii and then buying a ticket from there to Guam. I do this often. For instance, I am going to Panama in Feb. and using AK mileage to fly round trip to Miami and then buying a ticket from Miami to Panama and return.

As for warm places, there are many that I really enjoy, especially the Greek Islands right now. I have not been to Guam, but I've had friends visit and they loved it. For you, it would be advantageous to have someone there.

I'm going to Panama in Jan. as I've heard it is great for sun and sand too. There's always Mexico. The Mexican Rivera is good between Cancun and Tulum. I don't like Cancun itself as it is too touristy and rowdy. Thailand has many beaches and I like Phuket. It has been rebuilt since the tsunami and is lovely. The Philippines are also great and one island I really like if Boracay...Gloria

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