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tacky touristThis week, satirical Web site The Onion took aim at the “ugly American” travel stereotype in its News in Brief:

“CHICAGO — Recent college graduate Tyler Hill announced Monday his plans to single-handedly shatter European ideas about American travelers during his upcoming three-week trip to France and Belgium. … ‘They’re going to meet me and think, “Wow, it really means a lot to me that he took the time to learn a couple of useful phrases in our language.”‘ Hill added that over the course of the trip, he hopes to meet some Europeans who aren’t just a bunch of effeminate, chain-smoking elitists.”

While having a chuckle at the Onion’s piece, I realized I was laughing at myself too. I’ll admit it: I’m guilty of masquerading as some kind of international globetrotter with impressive foreign language skills while traveling. In one particular situation, my attempt to fit in with the locals led to the extreme of pretending to be one.

On a trip to Amsterdam this summer, a local woman approached me in the Tassen Museum of Bags and Purses, pointed to the display in front of us and, with a mischievous grin, uttered some clever remark in Dutch. She began laughing, and I laughed with her as if I had understood what she had said — but I don’t speak a word of Dutch.

My charade fell to pieces when the woman continued to try to strike up conversation as I toured the museum. I had already indicated that I spoke Dutch, and there was no going back. I spent the rest of the evening nervously avoiding the woman, ducking behind cases of couture handbags whenever she came near.

Why was my first instinct to act like moronic Tyler Hill? There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist, but sometimes it’s nice not to feel like an outsider while traveling — if only for a few moments. Travelers interested in fitting in while on the road should check out our 20 tips for blending in with the locals (none of which suggest pretending to understand an unfamiliar language).

How do you blend in with the locals while traveling? Do you even try? We want to hear your stories!

— written by Caroline Costello

turkey tsa It’s official: we’re blogging! Welcome to “Have Tips, Will Travel,” where we’ll bring you quick takes on travel news, need-to-know info for travelers, and discussions on travel-related controversies and issues of the day (click here to read more about our new blog). Let’s get started.

On IndependentTraveler.com, we have travel deals, trip planning ideas, community forums and packing tips galore. But did you know we answer travel questions as well?

Our readers can send their burning questions to travel wizard (and Editor) Sarah Schlichter at feedback@independenttraveler.com. While we’ve been asked about everything from passports to pet travel, the most popular questions we’ve received, by far, are about which foods can be carried through airport security. Ever since the TSA declared that all carry-on liquids and gels must be in 3.4-ounce containers within a single clear, quart-sized zip-top bag, countless readers have been e-mailing us to ask what kinds of foods they can bring on a plane. Is tuna salad a “gel”? (It’s close enough that it could be confiscated.) What about a mushy banana or a slice of cheesecake? (Probably ok.) Here’s a question we received last fall:

“I’d like to take Thanksgiving dinner to my son. I thought I would take cooked turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, but a friend said I probably can’t take it on the plane. Please let me know.”

These kinds of questions make us hungry for lunch. They also make us chuckle at the bizarre issues that come up in trip planning. Here’s Sarah’s answer:

“Thanks for writing to IndependentTraveler.com. You’d probably be okay to bring the turkey and stuffing, since those are both solid, but because the mashed potatoes are a gel-like substance, they would be subject to the 3-1-1 rules. That means you could only bring 3.4 ounces or less, and the container would have to fit inside a quart-size plastic bag. I’m sure your son will appreciate two out of three!”

Did our reader bring her son a zip-top bag filled with tiny containers of mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and gravy? We’ll never know. But we do hope that her Thanksgiving bounty wasn’t confiscated by some hungry TSA agent. After all, checkpoint clearance is always subject to the discretion of individual TSA agents, and the TSA’s lists of approved items are not set in stone.

Those of you struggling with similar questions should take a look at the TSA Helpful Hints for Holiday Travelers page, which has a list of foods that can be taken on a plane. Or you can post your travel questions or comments below — we’ll be happy to answer!