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Summer Vacation 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: Stay at any InterContinental Hotels Group property this summer and receive a free $75 prepaid gift card. To qualify, you must book a stay of two consecutive weekend nights or longer (Friday, Saturday or Sunday) from May 16 through August 31. The sheer variety of hotels on offer here is jaw-dropping. This deal is valid at more than 4,400 Holiday Inn, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, and Candlewood Suites properties around the world.

The Catch: This is a rebate promotion, so if you don’t bother to keep your receipt and mail a form after your vacation, you’ll miss out. Travelers must mail a rebate form plus their hotel receipt by September 30 to receive their prepaid card, which will arrive in the mail six to eight weeks later.

There’s one more thing. You’ll have to hold your horses for a few hours, as the rebate won’t be available online until Wednesday, May 11.

The Competition: BedandBreakfast.com is running a summer B&B promotion, offering $25 discounts at almost 2,000 B&B’s around the world. Of course, $25 is no $75. But BedandBreakfast.com’s wide range of eligible properties, which numbers in the thousands, isn’t something to sneeze at.

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

– written by Caroline Costello

airplane passengers seatmate annoying chatter headphones cell phone angry cranky annoyedAs Sartre once said, “Hell is other people,” and nowhere is this more true than on a plane. Crammed elbow-to-elbow in a narrow metal tube with nowhere to escape but the lavatory, airline passengers have the power to make each other’s lives either pleasant — or miserable.

We recently polled our readers to find out which onboard behavior causes the most misery: hogging the armrest? Forgetting that all-important deodorant? Chattering so much you can’t enjoy the newest page-turner from Dan Brown?

It turns out that there’s one plane pet peeve that tops them all: seat-kicking, which took home more than 30 percent of the vote. Grouses member Kayling05, “The worst thing I have found is when people (usually kids) kick the back of the seat! On an 11-hour flight to Fiji, these kids woke me up in the middle of the flight (overnight) kicking my seat and I turned around and screeched at them (in a loud whisper), ‘Can you please STOP THAT?!?!’ Well, they did, so that was nice. I am not a morning person even on the ground, so they definitely messed with the wrong person.”

Parents, take note! We don’t care how adorable your little darlings are — they’d better keep their feet to themselves.

While hogging the armrest and wearing too much perfume rounded out the top three annoyances, many readers wrote in with complaints we’d left off the list:

– “[I'm not fond of] people who have to haul themselves up by pulling on the back of my seat, catapulting me into the seat in front of me when they let go.” – sdtexas

– “There is the avid reader [in] the window seat who doesn’t find the reading light above her seat bright enough for her eyes, and keeps the window blind open when the lights are turned off and everyone else is sleeping (or attempting to), letting the sun’s rays bounce on the glossy pages of her magazine and mercilessly [hit] my face, defying even the the thickest sleeping mask.” – Marco Polo

– “There was one flight that my husband and I took from PA to the U.S.V.I. as a package tour. The very wide man who was seated in the row ahead of us decided to chat, and chat, and chat with someone in our row. He stood for a long time with his wide posterior almost touching my face. The flight attendant just giggled when I asked her to make him move. I lowered my seat tray a bit and crossed my legs, bumping his butt, all the while concentrating on my paperback. He moved.” – tripper707

Don’t let yourself be the subject of a fellow passenger’s horror story! Check out our guide to in-flight etiquette.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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 week’s Photo Friday guessing game is Yosemite Falls! At 2,425 feet, it’s the highest of the many waterfalls in California’s Yosemite National Park. It flows from approximately November through July, with its peak in May. Learn more about Yosemite (and see our other favorite parks) in our slideshow of the 10 Best National Parks.

– 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: A hike to the top of this famous waterfall will take the better part of a day.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Union Station, Washington D.C.This Saturday, May 7, hundreds of train-themed events will be engineered across the U.S. in celebration of National Train Day. The festival’s lineup of railroad memorabilia exhibits and historic car displays is more than enough to lure train fanatics of all shapes and sizes, the kinds of avid hobbyists who build elaborate model train sets in their basements and own the DVD “Unstoppable.”

For the rest of us, Train Day offers plenty to pique our interest too. Like cake. Last year, none other than “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro created an enormous train-shaped confection for the event in New York. Who knew locomotives could be so moist and delicious? While there’s no word on whether Buddy will appear at this year’s fete, there will be food prepared by celebrity chefs. There will be concerts. (Gladys Knight is the spokesperson for National Train Day 2011.) And there will be giveaways!

Here’s a sample of some upcoming National Train Day events taking place in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Chicago:

-Amtrak Security K-9 Units will be performing exciting demonstrations featuring fearless, furry guards.

-There will be sweepstakes galore with some big-ticket prizes. Spoils include everything from free hotel stays to, of course, complimentary train tickets.

-Various celebrity chefs (such as Michel Richard of Citronelle) will prepare samples of gourmet meals served onboard Amtrak dining cars.

National Train Day events are taking place in small towns as well as big cities across the U.S. To find an event near you, use the handy National Train Day interactive map.

Throw in a major milestone — along with some celebratory money-saving deals — and you’ve got even more excitement. This year, Amtrak celebrates 40 years as “America’s Railroad.” The country’s biggest passenger rail service, which created National Train Day, is honoring its birthday by bestowing double and triple points on Amtrak Guest Rewards members and letting youngsters ride for free.

Will you be taking part in National Train Day?

– written by Caroline Costello

twitter logo birdEvery 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.

Still don’t have a Twitter account? If you love to travel, you’re missing out on some key opportunities to improve your next trip.

The popular micro-blogging site has helped countless globetrotters by providing a platform for travel mishaps to be resolved in real time. Writes Ed Hewitt in How Social Media Is Changing Travel, “Many travel companies are using Twitter and other social media to head off problems before they start. Southwest and JetBlue have both shown extremely quick response times to tweets by travelers en route and in trouble. A Southwest passenger recently tweeted about losing a boarding pass and was contacted by the airline immediately; meanwhile, a JetBlue passenger was unable to be seated with his infant child until he tweeted his predicament, which was picked up while he was still in the boarding area.”

Airlines, hotels and other travel companies have staffers actively monitoring their Twitter accounts for just this type of message. Given how easy it is for complaints to go viral on social media sites, resolving problems quickly and publicly is smart customer service — and saves travelers like you from having to sit on hold with your airline’s 800-number for three hours.

But Twitter isn’t just for complaints. The site is also an important source of real-time travel news and local expertise. “I set up a whole trip through Africa through Twitter contacts that would have been almost impossible without [them],” says Twitter user @melissashales. “Dar [es Salaam] to Bulawayo by train over five weeks, staying at small guesthouses owned or recommended by Twitterers, game lodges and old haunts. Fab!”

User @flyingwithfish is similarly appreciative: “Food, directions, [weather] updates … The number of things I have received help from Twitter on while traveling is extensive. I’ve had two airports help me make short connections via Twitter.”

Sure, you may need to wade through a few banal “what I had for dinner” tweets — but it’s worth it for all those times when the site serves up the perfect restaurant recommendation in Venice or a time-saving traffic update on the way to the airport.

Follow us on Twitter!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

american flag usa stars and stripesBy now, most travelers are aware of the global travel alert released by the U.S. State Department in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death on Sunday. The alert, which expires August 1, 2011, advises U.S. citizens “in areas where recent events could cause anti-American violence … to limit their travel outside of their homes and hotels and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations.” The State Department also recommends that travelers keep their eye on local news, stay in touch with family and friends at home, and enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which allows travelers to receive the latest updates and information from the government.

But just how worried should travelers be? Earlier today we checked in with Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of our sister site CruiseCritic.com, to get a sense of whether anything has changed for travelers abroad. (Brown is currently traveling in the United Kingdom.)

“Certainly, people are talking about it, but at this point there’s no concrete confirmation of any [security] changes, and I don’t expect there to be quite yet,” Brown told us in an e-mail. “A lot depends on what [the U.S. government finds] in the intelligence, and there’s a feeling that there will be a backlash that could impact travel but it’s just too early to tell (by backlash I mean an attack somewhere in retaliation).”

It’s difficult, if not impossible, for ordinary travelers to predict where a potential terrorist attack might occur — and the State Department seems to be reinforcing that uncertainty by making its recent alert “worldwide.” But that doesn’t mean travelers are canceling their trips to huddle up under the bed at home.

IndependentTraveler.com’s managing editor, John Deiner, who’s cruising the Med this week aboard Carnival Magic, reported this morning that so far everything there is business as usual: “No one has said a thing about security on the ship! We were in Croatia yesterday, and it might as well been Miami … no one advised us to do anything differently.”

And @AnjaniLadki told us on Twitter that she’s not planning to make any changes to how she travels: “Being cautious, alert and applying common sense ought to do it. [The] rest is up to fate! Not doing anything different than I would’ve a week ago.”

Facebook user Lora W.M. summed it up most succinctly: “[Terrorists] will never scare me enough to stop doing what I love.”

We advise readers planning overseas trips to take a look at any government warnings or alerts that apply specifically to the destination they’re visiting, and to enroll in the State Department’s STEP program to stay abreast of current news. For more useful tips on staying safe abroad, as well as links to travel alerts from other governments besides the U.S., see our story on Travel Warnings and Advisories.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Orlando, Florida 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: The clock is ticking, and travelers have just one day to book cut-rate spring flights from JetBlue. Fares to destinations including Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, San Francisco, New Orleans, Washington D.C., New York, Boston and other popular places are on sale starting at $39 each way plus taxes and fees.

For most city pairs, travel is valid on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only in May and June (exceptions apply for select flights). All in all, 39 bucks is a fantastic price for a spring flight, and this deal features an impressive selection of departure and destination cities across the U.S., with a few Caribbean and Mexican gateways thrown in as well.

The Catch: Of course, the big catch is that one-day time limit. This deal turns into a pumpkin at 11:59 Eastern Time today (May 3). We’ve seen JetBlue one-day deals sell out hours before the official expiration date, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.

The Competition: Fellow discounter Southwest is matching some of JetBlue’s routes with its newly released three-day fare sale. While Southwest provides travelers with more time to book, the airline flies to U.S. gateways only and isn’t offering discounted fares to Mexico or the Caribbean.

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

– written by Caroline Costello

carry-on bagI hate checking bags when I fly. I just do. I hate having to worry about whether my baggage will be lost or broken into, checked luggage fees are the pits, and I’m utterly impatient when waiting to spot my suitcase as it comes down the conveyor belt.

Needless to say, I’m sort of obsessed with space-saving packing techniques. I stuff underthings and socks into my shoes, roll each piece of clothing as tightly as possible and arrange everything just so. By the time my bag is zipped up, the insides closely resemble an untouched Jenga tower; I pride myself in this. In fact, some would say I brag about it. That said, I recently discovered that my packing proficiency could be enhanced by the right bag.

A few years ago, I purchased a tote dubbed “The Miracle Bag,” thinking it would be perfect for heading to the beach or taking a road trip. And it is. But on a recent weeklong trip to Belize, I realized it’s ideal for longer treks as well. The bag is constructed of a sturdy eco-friendly plastic-like material that is super-simple to clean, and it boasts a large main compartment, a small interior zippered pocket and six deep outside pockets. It zips across the top, and has handles and a long arm strap.

On this particular trip, I managed to pack the main compartment with three swimsuits, several dresses, four pairs of shorts, four tops, two skirts, a pair of skinny jeans, two pairs of flip-flops, a pair of sandals, underclothes and my quart-size bag of toiletries. Better yet, I didn’t have to use an overhead compartment once onboard, as my carry-on fit snugly under the seat in front of me. I worried a little about whether our checked bag would get lost — but I would survive just fine with what I had in my “Miracle Bag,” even if it was for the entire week.

Oh, and on our return trip, I even succeeded in squeezing in a few souvenirs! Now, I urge you onward … in search of your very own stress-busting satchel. If you have your own miracle bag, tell us about it!

– written by Shayne Rodriguez Thompson

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 St. Andrews, Scotland! Prince William and and his new bride, Kate Middleton, met as students at the 600-year-old St. Andrews University. This beautiful seaside town is also known as the home of golf; there are 11 places to hit the links here, including the world-renowned Old Course. Non-golfing visitors can enjoy the town’s historic sites, including the magnificent cathedral ruins pictured in Friday’s photo. Want to visit? Learn how to save money on flights to Europe this summer.

Check back this Friday for another photo guessing game!

–written by Sarah Schlichter