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Kilauea VolcanoIf Barack Obama’s allegedly long-lost birth certificate is wedged between igneous rocks in Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii Tours is going to find it.

The tour company is raising eyebrows and poking fun at political conspiracy theories with its cheeky “Find Obama’s Birth Certificate” tour package, which takes travelers to places where clues to the location of Obama’s proof of citizenship just might surface. Participants will visit Kilauea Volcano, home to all-knowing Pele the Hawaiian Fire Goddess, who may reveal the location of the lost documents if she is in a favorable mood. Pearl Harbor Memorial and the Kahala Hotel and Resort, sites where Obama has been and may have dropped his birth certificate on the floor somewhere, are also on the itinerary.

What’s going on here? George Kaka of Hawaii Tours said in an e-mail, “‘Find the President’s Birth Certificate’ tour package was conceived to bring a lighthearted, adventurous aspect to touring the Hawaiian Islands. We believe in weaving relevant and recent history into our tours, when possible.”

No need to send angry e-mails to George. Hawaii Tours is only having fun. But political pundits and conspiracy nuts claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States are quite serious, and have been speaking out in blogs and books since the 2008 presidential election campaign. The theories are, according to a wide range of reputable sources, untrue. FactCheck.org confirms that President Obama, who was born in Honolulu, does have his original sealed and stamped Hawaii birth certificate. A scanned copy of the document is available for viewing on the Fight the Smears Web site.

Nonetheless, many still believe that Obama was not born in the United States. (Google “Barack Obama’s Birth Certificate” and you’ll find ample evidence of them starting arguments all over the Internet.) And now, these folks have a great excuse to skip off to Hawaii and do a little investigative reporting (though, really, the only thing I’d be investigating is who serves the best mai tais).

If you’d like your Hawaii vacation with a side of rapier-sharp political satire, you can book the three-day “Find Obama’s Birth Certificate” package for $399 per person. And let us know if you find it.

— written by Caroline Costello

airplane sick ill illness cough coldEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

Winter’s not over yet — and cold season’s still running strong. According to a well-known study, travelers are more likely to catch a cold on an airplane than during their day-to-day routine, a fact that won’t surprise anyone who’s ever been stuck next to a sneezing, sniffling seatmate at 33,000 feet.

In Avoiding the Airplane Cold, travel expert Ed Hewitt shares some helpful tips on keeping healthy in the air. One important thing to remember, writes Hewitt, is to stay hydrated: “It turns out that drinking plenty of water will not only counter the overall dehydrating effects of air travel, which can lead to headaches, stomach problems, cramps, fatigue and more, but can actually fortify your preemptive natural immune mechanisms to function considerably better.”

To stay hydrated in the air, of course, drink water — and lots of it. Carry a water bottle or some juice (buy this after you’ve been through airport security). Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Fliers may also want to purchase nasal mists to keep their mucous membranes moist.

Keeping hydrated while traveling by plane certainly isn’t a cure-all for the cold. But it’s one simple, easy way to keep your immune system strong.

What do you do to avoid colds while traveling?

— written by Caroline Costello

Ljubljana, Slovenia Every Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Lufthansa just rolled out this winter and spring Europe fare sale, which trumps the competition in terms of sheer variety of departure and destination cities. If you live in the continental U.S., there’s probably a gateway near you that’s included in this sale (fly from one of 16 U.S. departure cities). This sale offers discounted fares to popular gateways like London, Rome, Athens and Barcelona. But also included are some interesting Eastern European and Middle Eastern destinations like Tirana, Sarajevo, Tallinn, Tehran and Minsk. If you’ve been to London eight times and are seeking cheap fares to a less-traveled European spot, pay attention.

Ticket prices start at $198 each way plus taxes and fees, which amount to roughly $200 roundtrip. Travel is valid for departures through April 4 and return flights through April 30; that’s late enough in the year for travelers to find pretty spring weather in much of Europe.

The Catch: Expect ticket prices to rise for departures on weekends, as these fares are based on mid-week travel.

The Competition: Icelandair and American Airlines are currently running similar Europe fare sales, with discounted tickets for travel through spring.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

–written by Caroline Costello

milestone hotel It’s not a royal wedding without some kind of commemorative plate set. Or a vinyl Kate Middleton doll (the Franklin Mint is working on one, enticing collectors with the glitter of limited availability — only 5,000 will be made). Keep an eye out for souvenir royal wedding condoms too, which are already for sale in England.

Luxury hotels certainly aren’t above cashing in on the big event along with nearly everyone else in the British Isles. The Milestone Hotel, a posh five-star London property overlooking Kensington Palace, is offering a four-night Royal Occasion package that includes a set of fine English bone china commemorative plates and mugs, crafted by Royal Worcester. Package prices start at 2,418 pounds (that’s about $3,894 as of this posting) for two people staying in a superior queen room between April 24 and May 3. Here’s what’s included:

– Four nights’ accommodations

– Daily English breakfast

– A royal Champagne afternoon tea

– A seven-course meal prepared by the hotel’s chef

– Two tickets to Kensington Palace

– Luxury car transfers from London Heathrow Airport

– And, most importantly, that commemorative plate set

Add-ons range from a Champagne sabrage (that’s when a bottle of Champagne is ceremoniously opened with a knife or a sword) to an elegant picnic in Hyde Park. I’m no luxury traveler, but any package that includes a guy hacking at a Champagne bottle with a sword is something to consider. Plus, the painful price of nearly $3,900 isn’t quite as paralyzing once you realize the package covers two people staying for four nights in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Excuse me while I try to think of a clever way to scare up four grand. In the meantime, tell us: Would you book a luxury package in London for the royal wedding — or will you just stick with a few commemorative plates and some souvenir condoms?

–written by Caroline Costello

Every Monday, we’ll post the answer to the previous week’s Photo Friday quiz. Play along with future photo guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).

The correct answer to last Friday’s photo guessing game is Jerusalem! Pictured is the Tower of David, an ancient citadel that has protected the Old City for thousands of years. Visitors to the Tower can tour a museum documenting the city’s history and enjoy a 360-degree view of the Old City and modern Jerusalem. The Tower is named after King David, who ruled Israel between approximately 1003 and 970 B.C. Learn more about the city in Jerusalem Essentials.

Check back this Friday for another photo guessing game!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every Friday, we’ll feature a photo of an unidentified place here, on our blog. Think you know where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Monday to see if you were right! Get the answer in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right).

Hint: This wall is part of a tower named after a famous king; today, a museum inside the tower documents the city’s history.

Leave a comment below to guess the destination!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Admit it. While you’re jetsetting across continents, dancing in bars and dining on exotic delicacies, deep down you’re thinking about faithful Sir Barksalot, who is back at home in a boarding kennel, whining at a picture of you.

You’re not alone. On Facebook, we asked our readers to tell us what they miss the most about home while traveling, and the majority of respondents revealed that above all, they miss their pets.

I must concur. There isn’t much unconditional love to be found in hotel lobbies and airport waiting lounges. Sure, customs’ drug-sniffing canines are cute, but we’re not supposed to pet them (which I discovered the hard way). When you need to scratch your pet itch while traveling, consider the following options.

dog bark park innIn the Doghouse
Retreating into the belly of a giant dog may be taking the whole “man’s best friend” thing a little too far. Nevertheless, lodging is available inside the world’s largest beagle at the Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho. Visitors are invited to “Experience the Dog!” by circling three times before dozing off in a dog-themed room inside a massive two-story canine named “Sweet Willy.” There’s even a cozy loft inside Willy’s head, where one can squirrel away and think dog-like thoughts. Don’t forget to bring your dog-print pajamas and collection of self-help books.

cat boatPuss and Boat
Amsterdam’s De Poezenboot (or in English, the Cat Boat) is the only houseboat-cum-animal sanctuary in the Netherlands (and possibly in the world, I’d wager) — and it’s open for tours. Anyone who’s been inside a Dutch houseboat knows they’re typically quite small, so the tour is brief. You walk in, you look at a room full of cats, and then you leave. When I last visited the Cat Boat, one particularly angry feline growled at me from atop his cage while I stood at a distance, calling to him sweetly. A staff member told me, “He’s beautiful, but the nasty thing’ll bite your hand off.” Despite this one unbalanced animal, I got my cat fix — there were a few less menacing creatures onboard.

cat cafeI’ll Have a Large Coffee and a Domestic Shorthair
Tokyo, land of avant-garde pop-culture trends and humanoid robots, is igniting a fad that combines two popular pastimes: cats and caffeine. At Tokyo’s cat cafes, dozens of resident felines weave between the legs of coffee-drinking cat people, and patrons pay hourly fees to pet purring balls of fur while sipping on lattes. According to CNN, as many as 100 cat cafes are operating in Japan.

dog cruiseCaptain Canine

Why not free Sir Barksalot from his kennel confines and take him on a cruise? There’s only one ship that permits pet-owners to bring their four-legged counterparts onboard: Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. The luxury ship boasts an onboard pet kennel, plus a “Pets on Deck” program that provides fresh biscuits, beds and blankets, pet toys and more. Fees range from $500 to $700 per cruise, which isn’t too shabby considering at-home kennel costs can be comparable. Plus, professional cruise photos of you and your Airedale make fabulous Christmas cards.

cowHave a Cow

Farm Sanctuary, a shelter for farm animals rescued from stockyards and slaughterhouses, has a charming bed and breakfast at its Watkins Glen shelter in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Guests stay in private cabins (daily vegan breakfast is included) and are invited to help out with farm chores and explore the Sanctuary grounds. Choose to sponsor an animal prior to your visit and you’ll get a V.I.P. tour that includes a personal meet-and-greet with the cow, duck, goat, chicken or other barnyard creature you’ve generously funded. Companion animals are welcome.

For more information about hitting the road with your dog or cat, read Traveling with Pets.

–written by Caroline Costello

travel plan map itinerary trip planningAre you the type of traveler that plans a detailed itinerary for each trip, or do you prefer to fly — or drive — by the seat of your pants? We recently posed this question on our Facebook page and discovered that when it comes to our readers, there’s no one travel style that fits all.

Writes Crystal-Grace S., “Spontaneity is key for me. Pick a place, do loads of research (travel articles, history, talk with folks who have been there), buy a travel ticket and then — take each day as it comes!”

Lori N.B. prefers a little more structure, but finds herself intrigued by the lure of the other side: “I’m a planner but one day I’d like to do a spontaneous trip just to break out of my box.”

Ken T.M. keeps it simple: “Either one as long as I’m traveling somewhere.” Amen to that!

There are pitfalls to either approach. Over-plan your trip and you could miss out on opportunities that come up at the last minute … or spend so much time dashing from one activity to another that you don’t get to fully appreciate any of them. (In fact, trying to cram too much into a single vacation is one of our Five Worst Trip Planning Mistakes.) But if you show up in a new place without doing your homework, you could find yourself standing in disappointment outside a museum you didn’t realize was closed on Mondays, or overlooking a fantastic restaurant you would have loved if only you’d read about it in your guidebook.

Discover useful tips for both planners and improvisers in Five Simple Ways to Make the Most of Your Vacation.

Are you a planner or a more spontaneous traveler?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Put away that fig leaf underwear! The TSA announced yesterday that it has begun testing new software to make its controversial full body scanners less revealing.

The scanners, which use Advanced Imaging Technology to show a clear, X-ray-style view of travelers’ bodies, sparked concerns about privacy when they were rolled out in airports across the U.S. last year. The new software that the TSA is testing would eliminate passenger-specific images and instead show potential threats on a generic gray outline of a human body. Travelers flagged with potential threats would be subject to additional screening in the form of a pat-down. If no threats are detected, the machine will display an “OK” message.

The software will be tested at airports in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Washington D.C., according to the TSA’s press release.

With this new software, the TSA clearly hopes to address concerns about passenger privacy — but questions remain about the safety and efficacy of the full body scanners. (The TSA maintains that the level of radiation used in the scanners is too low to be harmful.) And the hugely unpopular enhanced pat-downs remain in place.

Will this change to the full body scanners make you feel more comfortable about flying?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

vacation homeEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

Winter’s days are numbered. Just ask famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, who didn’t see his shadow today and predicted an early spring. But spring’s purportedly speedy arrival isn’t necessarily good news for travelers, depending on where they’re headed next. When warmer temperatures arrive, prices for accommodations in some destinations, like Europe, New England, Alaska and seasonal beach towns, will soar.

Considering that costs and demand for the upscale property you’ve been eyeing in Paris will be ballooning in the coming months, now is an auspicious time to think about ditching the hotel and setting up a home exchange — a process that should be started well in advance of your departure date. All you need is your own house and a sense of trust in humanity.

The trust part is pretty important. You don’t want to find yourself lying awake at night worrying about a stranger carelessly leafing through your antique book collection while you’re on vacation. To ease your concerns, check out our Home Exchange How-To Guide, which provides basic instructions for setting up an exchange, including ways to protect yourself and your home:

“The odds [of your home being in good hands] are favorable, particularly if you’re doing a direct swap, because you will be expected to care properly for the home of your trading partner while he or she is staying in yours. … Be sure that both of you are adequately insured (this includes car insurance if your vehicle will be involved in the swap). … To prevent problems or misunderstandings, you may wish to ask for references before agreeing to an exchange. It’s also a good idea to sign an informal written agreement that outlines the terms of your exchange.”

Have you ever participated in a home exchange? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below.

— written by Caroline Costello