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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 Atlanta! Pictured is the Fountain of Rings at Centennial Olympic Park, which was designed as a central gathering place for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The tall cylindrical building in the background is the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, whose 6,300+ windows had to be replaced after a tornado hurtled through Atlanta in March 2008. To read more about the city, check out Atlanta 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: The downtown park above was built when this city hosted the Summer Olympics.

Leave a comment below to guess the destination!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Update, April 8, 3 p.m.: The State Department just announced on its @TravelGov Twitter account that National Passport Day has officially been canceled in light of the potential shutdown.

Update, April 8, 10 a.m.: The Washington Post reports that the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade will still take place if a government shutdown happens. The parade route will be changed as necessary so that National Park Service permits, which would not be valid in the event of a government shutdown, will not be needed.

passport The looming U.S. government shutdown, which is looking more likely by the minute, could spoil your spring travel plans.

United States lawmakers have been postponing passage of the 2011 fiscal year budget, and if Congress doesn’t pass something soon — that is, by midnight Friday — a government shutdown is expected. All “non-essential” government employees would stop working during the shutdown. But some of these employees are absolutely vital to the travel industry.

Among the affected workers would be those employed at U.S. passport agencies. National Passport Day, which was scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 9, will be canceled, and anyone waiting to receive a passport or visa may have to wait longer than expected if a shutdown comes to pass.

For travelers, it gets worse. U.S. national parks, monuments and historic sites won’t be open during a government shutdown. Visitors to Washington D.C. will face particular challenges. As government-run facilities, the Smithsonian Institution museums and the National Zoo will be shuttered. Plus, according to the National Cherry Blossom Festival Web site, a handful of festival events will be canceled or postponed in the face of a shutdown, including the annual Cherry Blossom Parade, which marches down the National Mall (managed by — you guessed it — the National Park Service).

National Park Week kicks off next weekend, from April 16 through 24, during which admission is free at more than 100 national parks. Will it be canceled? Only time will tell. No one can predict the exact length of a possible shutdown, and there’s no way to know the extent to which one’s passport application may be delayed or for how long one may need to postpone that weekend getaway to Yosemite.

Travelers planning spring getaways should prepare for the worst and keep a close eye on trusted news sources. If you’re waiting for your passport to be processed, you can contact the State Department at 1-877-487-2778 or go online to check the status of your application.

Will a potential government shutdown affect your next trip?

– written by Caroline Costello

laptop hotel room bed womanHey, hotels — are you listening?

Earlier this week, we threw out a question to our followers on Twitter and Facebook: What’s one amenity that you wish all hotels would start offering?

While we got several creative responses — @PatWoods1 asked for bidet toilet seats, and a hungry @TwavelTweeter longed to indulge his sweet tooth with “in-room hot and cold running chocolate” — there was one answer that kept coming up over and over again: free Wi-Fi.

“Remember when hair dryers weren’t in all rooms? That changed. [Free] Wi-Fi should be ubiquitous, too,” said @karasw.

“[It] could be as little as 60 minutes per day, or free all day,” said @seaescapetravel. “This is huge. Today is all about connecting.”

“Free Wi-Fi. Seriously,” @thegeekTicket concurred. “Why do expensive hotels charge for it? It’s ridiculous.”

This last response highlights the primary Wi-Fi frustration for many travelers — that all too often, luxury hotels charge guests for Internet access, while budget properties let you connect for free. If you’re paying $400 a night for a hotel room, why should you have to shell out another $19.95 a day just to get online? Is the hotel trying to chase us out to the Starbucks down the street?

I’ve seen properties where the Wi-Fi is complimentary in public areas but not in individual guestrooms, which seems almost more obnoxious. If they can offer free Internet in the lobby, they could clearly offer it everywhere else — but instead they’re making us put on shoes, leave our comfy rooms and crowd into a noisy lobby with all the other Internet addicts. Thanks a lot.

Our readers aren’t the only ones to get hot under the collar about this issue. Gadling.com recently finished a March Madness-style bracket tournament involving the biggest hotel pet peeves. The worst offender: no free Wi-Fi.

Which hotel amenity is most important to you? Leave a comment below or vote in our poll.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

toiletriesEvery 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.

Size matters. Or, at least, it matters to the TSA.

We’re regularly hit with all kinds of questions about the TSA’s complicated carry-on rules. But many travelers seem puzzled by one problem in particular: when it comes to containers packed in carry-on bags, does size matter?

Asked one reader, “I have a 4-ounce tube of sunscreen that is only partially full (I’ve used some of it). Can I bring that in my carry-on? Is it the size of the container that is most important or the weight/amount of the material in the container?”

In Airport Security Q&A, we clear things up. “Liquids and gels must be in individual containers of 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less and placed inside one clear, quart-size, plastic, zip-top bag.” This means the containers may be no larger than 3.4 ounces, whether they’re full, half full or carrying the dregs of your dried-up shampoo.

We know. This security regulation is especially exasperating when you’re toting a 4-ounce bottle that’s practically empty. But unlike most rules, the TSA guidelines weren’t meant to be broken, and you risk having your containers confiscated by a security agent if they’re larger than 3.4 ounces by volume. Our advice? Purchase a set of empty carry-on bottles at your local Rite Aid (this useful item made our list of top 10 travel essentials you can find at your drug store), and fill ‘em up every time you travel.

– written by Caroline Costello

pragueEvery 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 announced this timely spring Europe fare sale, which features warm-weather flights to dozens of destinations on the Continent. Depart from one of 15 U.S. gateways and fly to a wide selection of European cities, including popular spots like Athens, London, Paris, Venice, Milan, Prague, Amsterdam, Rome and more. Fares start at $242 each way plus taxes and fees, which generally amount to about $200 roundtrip.

If you’re planning on flying to Europe within the next few months, don’t wait. Fares across the pond will rise significantly as the weather gets warmer. Expect roundtrip flights for travel to Europe in late June, July to top $1,000 — making this Lufthansa spring deal, which covers travel in April, May and early June, a particularly enticing offer.

The Catch: These low fares apply for weekday travel only. A $50 weekend surcharge applies each way for flights departing on Saturdays and Sundays. Also, a Saturday-night stay is required, so keep this in mind when putting together your itinerary.

The Competition: Air France is running a similar spring Europe sale, with fares starting at $277 each way plus taxes and fees.

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

– written by Caroline Costello

southwest airlinesAfter canceling roughly 600 flights over the weekend, Southwest Airlines grounded an additional 70 flights today. Reuters reports that Southwest continues to cancel flights for the purpose of inspecting its Boeing 737 planes, one of which was forced to land prematurely on Friday due to loss of cabin pressurization caused by a hole in the plane.

According to the Southwest Airlines Web site, ongoing testing has resulted in the detection of “small cracks” in two planes in addition to the damaged Boeing 737 that was grounded on Friday. Such cracks are formed by repeated pressurization and depressurization over time, which causes stress on the body of the plane — and they’ve been known to bring down a flight, writes Salon.com. The infamous 1985 Japan Airlines 747 crash that killed 520 people was caused by a tear in the plane’s bulkhead.

This time, no one was hurt, with the exception of one flight attendant who sustained minor injuries when Southwest Airlines Flight 812 descended to its emergency landing. But hundreds of Southwest travelers have, without a doubt, been inconvenienced in the past few days. Fortunately, they’ll get their money back. In accordance with its policy on delays and cancellations, Southwest is offering passengers booked on delayed or canceled flights the option of rebooking travel at no charge or receiving a refund for the unused portion of the fare.

Southwest’s iron-clad customer service policy notwithstanding, the thought of flying in a plane with a hole or a crack is terrifying — and hard to forget. Regardless of whether these faulty planes are the airline’s fault, Southwest doesn’t look good.

This news comes on the heels of a succession of further problems plaguing the airline, including a fizzled launch of Southwest’s new Rapid Rewards program. (Several apologies for the debacle, during which a command center outage on top of a barely functional Web site caused headaches aplenty for Southwest customers, have been posted on the airline’s blog.) Southwest’s stock, reports The Wall Street Journal, plummeted by 3 percent today.

Can Southwest repair its reputation? Will you continue to fly with the airline?

– 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 Barcelona! Pictured is Parc Guell, designed by Antoni Gaudi — the architect whose vibrant colors and fanciful curves mark some of the city’s most spectacular buildings. The most famous is the Sagrada Familia church, which has been under construction for more than 100 years. Learn more in Barcelona 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: The whimsical building in the photo is the work of this city’s most famous architect.

Leave a comment below to guess the destination!

– written by Sarah Schlichter