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egg cartonEvery 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.

You’ve cracked your last egg and devoured that delicious cheese and veggie omelet, but wait — don’t toss that empty egg carton in the trash just yet. You might be able to use it on your next trip! Writes Caroline Costello:

“A half-dozen egg carton tray makes an amazing travel jewelry box. It doesn’t appear enticing to thieves, it has segregated compartments to keep your necklaces from getting tangled and, best of all, it’s free. For an even fancier jewelry box, allow your child or pet to decorate the carton. The plastic container in which wet wipes are sold also makes a handy jewelry box, sans separate compartments.”

Even if you’re not bringing necklaces or earrings with you on a trip, an egg carton can be used to protect a variety of other small odds and ends — like hair bands and clips, earbuds for your mp3 player, or leftover currency after you’ve moved on to a new country.

Get more creative packing ideas in Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash.

Which household items have you reused in your travels?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

 Ketchikan, Alaska 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: Many travelers would argue that cruising is the best way to explore Alaska. Cruisers can tour scenic straits by ship, sail past rugged forests and gaze at glaciers from the comfort of their own private balconies. But there’s little debate on how expensive Alaska cruises can be, especially during summer months, which is why we’re excited about Oceania’s just-announced 2011 Alaska sale.

Oceania’s Regatta will start sailing Alaskan waters this May. To celebrate its new itineraries, the luxury cruise line is offering two-for-one fares, free airfare from select cities, $1,000 bonus savings per stateroom and an onboard credit of $1,000 per stateroom on all Alaska sailings. In addition, third and fourth passengers cruise free, and solo cruisers can take advantage of reduced single supplements on select sailings.

The Catch: Thousand-dollar savings seem titanic, but keep in mind that Oceania’s base fares aren’t cheap — after all, it’s a luxury cruise line. Alaska cruises start $3,299 per person based on double occupancy before any discounts are added.

The Competition: Regent Seven Seas Cruises is also running a promotion that features two-for-one cruise fares and bonus savings. The sale includes several Alaska sailings in addition to various discounted Europe, Panama Canal, Australia and Caribbean cruises.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Cruise Deals. For more information on traveling to Alaska, read Planning a Trip to Alaska.

– written by Caroline Costello

washington dcAs the capital of the U.S., Washington D.C. is full of amazing things to see, fascinating history to explore and delicious restaurants to draw your dollar from your purse. But your budget holiday in Washington D.C. doesn’t have to break the bank. There are lots of free activities to enjoy, some perfectly priced restaurants and great-value accommodations in the District of Columbia.

Cheap Sleep
The District Hotel in the Logan Circle Historic District is less than six blocks from the White House, the National Mall and Chinatown, and it’s just a five-minute walk to restaurants, bars and Embassy Row. All rooms have cable TV, air-conditioning and en-suite bathrooms. There’s also free daily continental breakfast and space for parking (for a fee). Private rooms start from $119 per night. There are also plenty of other cheap hotels and hostels in Washington D.C. for travelers on a budget.

Bargain Eats
As a university town, Washington D.C. has plenty of budget eateries to satisfy hungry students, of which thrifty travelers can take full advantage. There are many great value restaurants around the campuses, such as Ben’s Chili Bowl, famous for its chili dogs and chili half-smokes (Bill Cosby cites it as his favorite restaurant in Washington).

Or try the award-winning Hank’s Oyster Bar. The restaurant’s fresh New England beach-style seafood dishes include such delights as crab cake eggs Benedict, smoked salmon platter and seafood omelet — all for fantastic prices. And of course, a variety of oyster dishes are on the menu, as well as a flavorsome selection of wine, microbrews and seasonal beer.

Free Things to Do
– Most of the museums and historic sites at the National Mall are free, including the Smithsonian museums. The tree-lined Mall extends from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol Building and has plenty of green space for you to set up a picnic and enjoy the architecture from the comfort of your blanket.

– Admission to the National Zoo is free. Travelers of all ages will love the pandas, gorillas and monkeys that call the beautiful Rock Creek National Park (where the Smithsonian National Zoological Park is set) home. Apart from the zoo, there are spaces to picnic, hike, play tennis, ride horses, join animal talks and enjoy the crafts at the nature center in Rock Creek National Park.

– Every evening at 6 p.m., the Kennedy Center, Washington’s premier concert hall, puts on free performances. Regular stars include the National Symphony Orchestra, jazz musicians and dance troupes, so keep an eye on the listings.

– Go for one of the daily free tours around the U.S. Capitol building — but get there early, as they’re first come, first served. Otherwise, just browse the galleries at the Capital Visitor Center, where you can watch a live video feed of House and Senate floor proceedings. Visit the U.S. Botanic Garden next door; it houses roughly 4,000 seasonal, tropical and subtropical plants.

– Check out the National Gallery of Art, which has a vast free sculpture garden. Enjoy a guided tour around the center for — you guessed it — free!

– Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of American servicemen and women. You can walk the grounds for free (but to find the most interesting graves, take a guided tour bus for just $7.50).

– The Bureau of Engraving and Printing runs free tours around the factory where money is printed, cut and examined.

– No visit to Washington D.C. is complete without a tour of the White House. You must make a request through your Congressperson at least 21 days in advance. (Visitors from outside the U.S. should contact their embassy in Washington to submit a tour request.) Otherwise, you can visit the White House Visitor Center for free.

– written by Shing Mon Chung, SEO Executive of HostelBookers.com

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 Australia! Pictured are the 12 Apostles, striking limestone formations that you can see when you drive along the Great Ocean Road. This 151-mile scenic route runs along the southeastern coast of Australia between Torquay and Allansford, offering stunning sea views along the way. Get help planning your trip Down Under with our Top 25 Ways to Save on Australia Travel.

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: The rock formations above are famous landmarks on one of this country’s most beautiful drives.

Leave a comment below to guess the destination!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

suitcases baggage luggage bagsThe U.S. government is coming to bat for travelers, pushing for the implementation of new rules that would further defend endlessly abused fliers against the big bad airlines.

The Department of Transportation wants to address some of the biggest complaints about airlines, reports the Associated Press. Some of changes proposed by DOT Secretary Ray LaHood include refunds for checked bag fees when luggage is lost, an increase in the amount of money paid to bumped passengers, the option for fliers to cancel reservations within 24 hours of booking at no charge, and a more lucid disclosure of extra fees.

At present, airlines aren’t required to refund checked baggage fees if luggage is lost or damaged. Contributing blogger Dan Askin learned this the hard way when he had to pay $50 for the privilege of having his bag destroyed by US Airways. Such behavior has been de rigueur for the airline industry. But will LaHood’s proposal change things for the better?

The AP spoke to Nick Gates of SITA, an aviation technology provider, who warned that the airlines might use the proposed changes as an excuse to raise fees. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise to us; we’ve seen new rules implemented by the DOT backfire before.

When the Department of Transportation put into effect its passenger rights bill last year, one of its goals was to prevent lengthy delays by imposing hefty fines any time a plane sat on a tarmac for longer than three hours. But the bill may have had unintended consequences for travelers. Crankly Flier argues that the tarmac delay rule incited a significant increase in flight cancellations in 2010, reporting that there were an additional 5,000 cancellations in 2010 versus 2009 (even though weather conditions were 30 percent better in 2010 than in 2009).

Will the proposed DOT rules be a boon for fliers, or might passengers face a surge of reactionary fees or an increase in ticket prices? Share your thoughts!

– written by Caroline Costello

After eight years, I was back. I had last called on London in 2003 for 100 days during a college semester. Terrorist attacks, a winning Olympic bid and new recycling laws had left their indelible mark on city and psyche during the intervening years, and yet my surface experience as a tourist seemed largely untouched — except that now I had sterling to spend on a proper pub pint instead of a 99p can of Speckled Hen from the local Sainsbury.

Speakers’ Corner, a Sunday institution that celebrates “free speech,” belongs in the British Museum. The setting, the crowds, the English nationalist talking about the dilution of her breed, have all been cast in marble. I wasn’t the least bit surprised when I turned away from the eugenics nonsense to see the same American preacher in a cowboy hat and U.S.A. flag shirt climb his ladder and begin, with a sly smile, to warn listeners of the dangers of “evilution.” Eight years had passed, but the anti-evilutionist and xenophobe’s spouts were still preserved in amber. As was the crowd’s response: unabashed mockery or visceral rancor for the racist; good-natured ribbing for the always-smiling preacher man.

speakers corner london


Some recollections seemed preordained. My lady and I had lunch at Cafe Below, located in the 11th-century crypt of St. Mary-le-Bow Church, a Christopher Wren-designed building that was mostly destroyed during the Blitz — except for the crypt. As we walked down the stairs, I remembered a passing comment from our 6’3″ bearded professor, who took our class there for a lecture. “Oh, they have a wonderful cafe in the crypt,” I could hear him muttering in his slightly grizzled voice. Dining on local farm-sourced lamb burger and a pint of pear cider, I had to agree.

I headed back to Portobello Road for the mobbed Saturday market of antiques, sundresses, bric-a-brac, and food vendors hawking German fast food, crepes and Turkish stew in steaming mega-woks. I had lunch again at the Grain Shop, a vegetarian spot where you can fill a tin with multicolored salads, stews and stir-fries for about four quid. Just as in ’03, I followed my somewhat healthy vegetarian lunch with a second course of spicy Bavarian sausage with sauerkraut and mustard.

portobello road london


Also on the dining front were the ever-present takeaway paninis, a cheap lunch eaten hot-pressed or cold. But I couldn’t find my favorite sandwich spot from 2003, a purveyor of an addictive salad with roast ham, mature cheddar, hard-boiled egg, pickles and mayo. I’d been waiting eight years for that sandwich. The loss was hard to bear.

Even thoughtless moments triggered memory flashes. At my first busy crosswalk, I recalled how cab drivers seemed to speed up if they sensed the slightest intention to cross.

On Tube platforms, the once ubiquitous Cadbury machines had vanished. The emergency phones, should you need to report a sugar crash, remained. I may have splurged on an 80p chocolate three times in three months in 2003, but I could taste the absence of fruit and nut during pre-train idling.

I remembered hurrying down Tottenham Court Road, a central artery clogged with electronics and home furnishing stores, and chain cafes like Nero, Pret a Manger and Starbucks. Not much had changed, including my closely guarded opinion of it as the worst street in Central London.

Finally, at night, I remembered how the streets buzzed after football matches. On the evening after Brazil beat Scotland 2-0, the kilted army marched from pub to pub belting out victory songs. Perhaps they stopped watching before the players had left the pitch. I suppose only giving up two goals to Brazil is a victory.

big ben london


Have you ever revisited a place after a long absence? What changed and what stayed the same? Tell us below.

– written by Dan Askin

man credit card phoneEvery 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.

Between arranging a ride to the airport, dropping Fluffy off at the kennel and sitting on your suitcase to squeeze in all your clothes, the last few days before a trip can be chaotic and stressful. But there’s one thing you should always make sure to do before you get on the plane, as suggested by IndependentTraveler.com columnist Traveler’s Ed:

“Call your bank or credit card company and let them know about your travel plans. Most banks and credit card companies keep track of spending patterns and may interpret an unexpected overseas purchase as credit card fraud. Your bank or credit card company could lock your account if you use your card in another country without notifying them.”

I’d also recommend calling before a domestic trip, as any purchases outside of your usual spending radius could raise suspicion. If you are traveling internationally, use your time on the phone to ask which number you should call from overseas if your credit card is lost or stolen. (The toll-free number on the back of your card is often only for use within your own home country.) Jot down the information and keep it in a place separate from your card.

In addition to making sure you won’t get stranded in a foreign country with frozen funds, there’s another potential benefit to notifying your bank when you plan to travel, as I discovered a few years ago. After my companion and I reported that we’d be out of the country, our bank put an alert on one of our cards because it was being used for purchases back in our home state while we were gone. Because the bank knew where we were supposed to be, it was immediately able to flag the local purchases as fraudulent — and we weren’t held responsible for any of the bogus charges after we got home.

To see what else should be on your essential pre-trip checklist, check out 10Things to Do Before You Travel.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Flamingos in the CaribbeanEvery 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: Travelocity’s Easter sale features an array of impressive discounts on hotel stays and vacation packages for travel April through August. Choose from a selection of cut-rate hotel and package options in popular vacation destinations across the globe, including Mexico, the Caribbean, New York, California, Latin America, Hawaii and Florida. Receive as much as 65 percent off the price of your stay, plus get extra savings like free-nights and resort credits, depending on which property you choose.

One of the things we love about this deal is its sheer variety. We found discounted rates for all-inclusive Caribbean resorts, rustic national park hotels, big-city high-rise properties, and even Disney World and Disneyland accommodations featured in this sale. Nightly rates start at $42 (for a Travelodge hotel in Riviera Beach, Florida). For each property, travelers have the option of saving on hotel-only stays, or adding airfare and getting discounted prices for a vacation package. It’s great to have options!

The Catch: Depending on which hotel you’re looking at, various minimum-night stay requirements might apply. Many of the properties we looked at had a three-night minimum-stay requirement for the discount, but be sure to check when booking.

The Competition: Hotels.com is running a similar Easter sale, with discounts of up to 40 percent at select properties around the world. But the Hotels.com sale doesn’t feature marked down vacation packages, and travel dates are limited to select days in April.

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Group, an operating company of Expedia, Inc., which also owns Hotels.com.

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

– written by Caroline Costello

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which begins April 12, commemorates a conflict that preserved the United States and ended slavery, albeit at the cost of some 625,000 soldiers’ lives. That’s a sobering figure, yet this sesquicentennial is not all memorials, re-enactments and conventional battlefield tours. The occasion has also inspired a lot of offbeat Civil War tours and events — some wacky, some enlightening — thanks to a few folks with horse sense, tours that tell the oft-neglected African-American story, one baritone and 100,000 ghosts.

Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry: Harpers Ferry, WV
Of the gazillion ghost tours offered in the U.S.A., Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry stands out. That’s partly because John Brown’s failed raid on Harpers Ferry (1859) is said to have created a lot of ghosts, and partly because guide Rick Garland, a dead ringer for Jeb Stuart, is a spellbinding storyteller. This baritone and pianist also offers intimate O’ Be JoyFull performances of Civil War period music. “I play a lot of Stephen Foster, who invented American popular music,” says Garland. “I’ve also seen veterans cry over ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.'” Surely not because of the price: just $10.

rick garland o be joyfull tour



The Civil War and Slavery Walking Tour: Charleston, SC
This tour is “offbeat” because of its emphasis on the oft-neglected African-American experience. After you’ve visited Fort Sumter, where Secessionists first fired at Union troops on April 12, 1861, take this two-hour walk with Old Charleston Tours. Goosebump moment: When guide Michael Brown points to where Robert Smalls, a slave, “borrowed” a boat and sailed off into Charleston Harbor to escape bondage. He later joined the U.S. Navy and risked death, or worse, by piloting a Union warship right back into Charleston Harbor.

Segway Tours of Battlefields: Petersburg, Spotsylvania and Richmond, VA
To some people, Segways on these hallowed grounds (90,000 casualties) are a sacrilege; to others they just look goofy. But folks, they are practical. “These battlefields are huge, so most people can’t cover them by foot,” says Trent Adams of Segway of Richmond. “And unlike cars, Segways let you explore the parts of Petersburg National Battlefield Park in the order in which events happened. Besides, on Segways, you can ride into the fort, and you can ride right up to the crater.”

Crater? Union soldiers created it when they set off gunpowder in a mine. “The explosion,” says Adams, “was kind of bigger than they’d expected.” Segway of Richmond, whose tours start at $45, is also rolling out (heh heh, a little Segway humor) a new Civil War tour of Richmond. For Segway tours of nearby Spotsylvania National Battlefield, contact Old Town Seg Tours.

petersburg battlefield segway tour



Buckboards and Bikes: Antietam National Battlefield Park, MD
With 23,000 casualties, the Battle of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, was the bloodiest 12 hours of the Civil War. After the battle, hundreds of civilians rode onto the fields in buckboards to pick up the dead. You can visit Antietam in an authentic, hand-made buckboard, too; contact Bonnymeed Stables: (304) 876-1307 or bonnymeedfarm@gmail.com ($75). You’re also allowed to ride bicycles on many Civil War battlegrounds; Pedal and Paddle offers rentals ($30 – $40) and shuttles to Antietam.

The Haunted Hearse: Vicksburg, MS
The Union’s victory in this Mississippi city split the Confederacy in two: ergo, lots of unhappy ghosts. History buff Morgan Gates takes up to six passengers at a time for Haunted Vicksburg Tours ($25) in a most appropriate vehicle: a hearse. But how do you see ghosts, or anything else, from inside a hearse? There are, in fact, five windows, and Gates has also mounted a videocam on the hearse that streams on an inside monitor. “There’s a lot of paranormal activity now because of the upcoming anniversary,” says Gates. Uh, okay.

vicksburg hearse tour



Horseback Riding Tours: Gettysburg, PA
Site of the turning point of the Civil War, Gettysburg offers every imaginable way to revisit history, from traditional tours to SegTours’ guided tours of the sprawling battlefield, as well as numerous ghost tours, including Ghosts of Gettysburg excursions run by author and historian Mark Nesbitt. Perhaps best of all, Artillery Ridge offers two-hour horseback tours of the battlefield ($75 per person) with recorded narration, and Hickory Hollow Farm offers horseback tours with a licensed guide ($55 an hour). Riding across the Gettysburg battlefield, you get a profound sense of how this terrain looked to the mounted troops. These rides follow the same route up the Union-held ridge that the right flank of 12,000 Confederates took in Pickett’s Charge. At the top you get a sweeping view of the battlefield, but Pickett’s men didn’t get that far. So on July 3, 1863, the whole direction of the war changed.

gettysburg horseback riding tour ride horse battlefield



Ghouls Across the Globe: Seven Thrilling Ghost Tours

– written by Ed Wetschler, the executive editor of Tripatini.com, the travel social media site a.k.a. “Facebook for travelers.”