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uniworld passau germany river cruiseEvery 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: If you’re dreaming of exploring French vineyards or visiting historic Turkish mosques this summer, you’ll be intrigued by this deal from Uniworld. The river cruise line is offering up to $2,000 in savings per couple on a variety of summer and fall sailings when travelers purchase both a cruise (or a cruise/land tour combination) and airfare to Europe. The discount starts at $1,000 per couple for itineraries like “Burgundy & Provence” and “Enchanting Danube,” and rises to the full $2,000 per couple for longer sailings such as “Legendary Rhine & Moselle” and “Grand European Discovery.”

This deal must be booked by June 30. Travel dates vary by itinerary, but range from late June through November.

The Catch: The $2,000 discount is hefty, but that’s because the base fares are pretty hefty too. (Think $5,000 and up per person for some of the two-week voyages.) That said, remember that Uniworld’s rates include meals, drinks, shore excursions and onboard activities — so if you can get past the initial sticker shock, there won’t be too many unexpected expenses when you get onboard.

The Competition: Viking River Cruises is offering a nine-night Elbe River voyage from $2,706 per person, sailing from Prague to Berlin on November 5, 2011. Airfare is not included in this price — but given that fall is shoulder season in Europe, you should be able to find a fairly affordable flight.

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

— written by Sarah Schlichter

passport boarding pass money travelForget what you learned in high school English. A rose by any other name would not smell as sweet — at least when it comes to air travel, as an IndependentTraveler.com reader recently learned. She wrote to us with the following flight-booking conundrum:

“I recently renewed my driver’s license. I only use my middle and last name, and my former license was issued with the middle and last name only. When I renewed, they said I had to use my first, middle and last name but I could sign it using my middle and last name. Confusing, isn’t it? I am now wondering if I can use just my middle and last name on my airline ticket as I always have since that is the way I signed my license, or do I have to put the full name as it appears on my license?”

A few years ago, it might not have mattered which name our reader used to book her ticket — but times have changed. Last year the TSA launched its Secure Flight Program, which requires travelers to book airline tickets using the exact same name that appears on the ID they’ll use when they fly. Travelers must also provide their birthdate and gender when booking. By combining all of this information, the TSA hopes to minimize the number of people who are mistaken for travelers with similar names on the no-fly list.

What this means for our reader, of course, is that she must purchase her ticket under her full name — first name included — to match what’s on her driver’s license, assuming that her license is the ID she’ll be using at the airport. If she’s flying internationally, she should book with the name that appears on her passport.

If you have a driver’s license showing your middle initial and a passport showing your full middle name, book your domestic and international flights accordingly. The TSA has promised some flexibility with small discrepancies like these, but really, who wants to take the chance?

For more information, see TSA’s Secure Flight Program: What It Means for You.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

The Inn on CarletonWe have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is $195. Teresa Gotay was the first person to submit the right answer. She has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The room pictured in Friday’s post is Room Three at The Inn on Carleton in Portland, Maine. Rates for this room, which includes a king-size bed, garden views and a private bathroom with a new shower, range from $120 to $195 per night, depending on the season. The Inn, which is currently rated number one out of Portland B&B’s and inns on TripAdvisor, claims to be the oldest established B&B in the city. Read more about The Inn on Carleton in Portland, Maine Essentials.

Check back on Friday for another shot at winning a prize!

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc.

— written by Caroline Costello

What’s the best way to show the world that you’re a veteran traveler? Sport a fashionable IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt, of course! Play our perennially popular How Much Is This Hotel? game, and you could win said T-shirt, which looks great with jeans and a Cruise Critic fanny pack (that’s our sister site, in case you haven’t heard).

Guess the maximum standard nightly rate of the hotel room pictured below. Enter your guess in the comments, and be sure to include a valid e-mail address (so we can contact you in case you win). With a nod to “The Price Is Right,” we’ve added this condition: whoever guesses closest to the price of the room — without going over — wins a free IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt. Here’s the room:

Here are three hints to help you win that T-shirt:

-This room is part of a restored Victorian home that dates back to the 1860’s.

-This hotel is located in the largest city in the only U.S. state whose name has just one syllable.

-A hot breakfast is included in the rate.

We’re looking for the maximum nightly price for two people as listed on the property’s Web site, excluding holidays, coupon codes or package rates. Enter your answer by Sunday night, June 19, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Monday.

– written by Caroline Costello

Now may be the best time to book your summer flight across the pond. Airfarewatchdog reports a recent drop in fares from the U.S. to Europe. According to the fare-tracking site’s blog, “If you’re planning on spending a month in Europe, the sweet spot this summer is, for some unknown reason, departing on July 18 and returning August 17. That’s when the lowest fares are available in general, for summer travel. Some of these fares are as low as $500 round-trip with tax. That’s amazing for peak summer travel, but only specific dates are available.”

We’re delighted to see that summer fares to Europe are hovering in the $500 roundtrip range — an impressive price for travel during the Continent’s most popular tourist season. Of course, you could always snap up even lower fares by jetting to your Italian chalet — or hostel with shared bathroom — in fall, spring or winter. But you’ll be missing one of the best reasons to see Europe in summer: the gorgeous, heavenly weather. Summer’s sunny blue skies and warm breezes make beautiful European landscapes all the more lovely. Let’s face it. If you want to see this, you’re going to have to sign up for a summer flight:



Palma Cathedral, Spain


Now, are you aching to pack your bags? Good. Because we’ve unearthed a bunch of wallet-friendly fares from the U.S. to Europe that make summer travel as cheap as an Anthony Weiner joke.

British Airways is selling flights to London for as little as $552 roundtrip plus taxes and fees. Granted, the lowest prices — like that $552 ticket — are for fall travel. But we found fares as cheap as $598 roundtrip for flights departing in August.

American Airlines fares to Europe are on sale starting at $284 each way plus taxes and fees for travel from mid-August through the fall. Destinations include London, Paris, Manchester, Milan and Helsinki.

Lufthansa‘s Europe and Africa fare sale features discounted flights to a wide variety of destinations from Accra to Zurich. Fares start at $322 each way for travel in late August.

Air France flights to cities like Paris, Pisa, Barcelona, Rome and Madrid are on sale for as little as $328 each way for travel in July. And, as with all Air France flights, you can add a stopover in Paris for free.

-Check Continental Airlines for low-priced flights to Europe in August and September. The airline offers a useful rate calendar that helps visual learners plan the least expensive itinerary.

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

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

— written by Caroline Costello

luggageEvery 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.

We’re hitting the road in a new era of air travel, when excessive airline baggage fees have forced untold passengers to pack the kitchen sink into a carry-on and haul it onto the plane. The result? I don’t think I’ve boarded a single flight in the past year without hearing the airline staff announce that the overhead bins are full and some passengers will need to gate check their bags.

This announcement moves me to clutch my bag fearfully. In my carry-on, I pack a variety of things I intend to use during the flight — especially if it’s a long one — like books, snacks, hand sanitizer, magazines, even a pillow. I don’t want to gate check my carry-on bag, ever. But, if I’m last in line to board and I’m left with no choice to but to say goodbye to my precious rolling suitcase — there’s a simple solution.

Writes Ed Hewitt: “You never know if they’re going to start taking your stuff from you at the end of the gangway, so my recommendation is to pack a small bag inside your larger bag in case you are forced to check your carry-on. This way you can take your most valuable (and most easily stolen) items, and put them in a small bag you can keep at your feet if necessary.”

Put together a bag within a bag — a sort of nesting doll suitcase. Just pack the essentials you know you might need on the plane (including things like vital medications or anything else that you absolutely can’t be without) in a smaller sack like a purse or a plastic grocery bag, so that you can easily remove it in case your suitcase is taken away at the gate.

For more tips like this, read Seven Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly.

— written by Caroline Costello

On a recent trip to Vancouver, I stayed in the trendy West End, in a high-rise building overlooking Coal Harbour and the North Shore Mountains. Breakfast was free, as was high-speed Wi-Fi. Stanley Park, the convention center and the bustling attractions of downtown were just a 10-minute walk away. And I only paid $55 a night.

I found my room on Airbnb.com, a site dedicated to short-term room rentals. Airbnb’s listings are a combination of vacation rental and homestay; the site’s 50,000+ hosts around the world offer everything from a bed in a spare room to an entire condo or house. Amenities vary widely; during my stay, I slept in a spare room and shared the single bathroom with my host and another guest.

Was the experience worth it? You bet — but I did have a few hiccups along the way.

vancouver apartment bedroom view

The Good: The affordable price was the most obvious perk, but I also loved the opportunity to live like a local, quite literally. I was given my own key to my host’s apartment building, so I came and went as I pleased — and got to pretend that her swanky city view was mine, all mine. I chatted with my host over breakfast, borrowed her hair dryer and helped her polish off a delicious blueberry cobbler from the local market. And it was nice to have someone to talk to after a day of sightseeing, especially since I was flying solo on this trip.

The Bad: The flip side of the “having someone to talk to” coin is that you might not always want to talk to anyone. I didn’t realize just how much I enjoyed the freedom and privacy of a hotel room until the night I came home exhausted and had to make polite small talk with my host’s other guest, even though I wanted nothing more than to hole up with my laptop for an hour or two. There’s also the (in)convenience factor; because we were in such a small shared space, I found myself tiptoeing around and adjusting my normal shower schedule to avoid waking my newfound roommates.

Airbnb and Beyond: Tips for Safe, Legal Vacation Rentals

The Ugly: On the second night of my stay, an argument flared up between the host and her other guest over toilet paper. Yes, we were down to our last precious square — but who was to blame? I took cover behind my laptop screen as the fight blazed beyond the two-ply into the guest’s general dissatisfaction with her room and accusations of false advertising in the host’s Airbnb listing. Voices were raised. Threats to call 911 were made. And finally, at 11:30 p.m., the guest was told to pack her bags.

Of course, an incident like this is rare, but it illustrates the way a personality clash in this sort of living situation can make or break your stay.

Tips: Communicate with your host early and often. If there are amenities that are important to you, ask about them before you book (my room, for example, didn’t have a TV or a telephone). If you enjoy your stay, consider giving your host a little token of gratitude, such as chocolate or other foodstuffs. (I bought my host an herbal blend from the Granville Island Tea Company.) And bring a backup plan — i.e., a few phone numbers for nearby hotels — just in case.

Learn more in Homestay and Farmstay Tips and Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Hawaiian Sunset 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: Save up to 40 percent on bed and breakfast rates at Hilton Hotels and Resorts in destinations around the world. Your level of savings depends on where you travel:

-Save 20 percent in North and South America

-Save 40 percent in Africa, Europe and the Middle East

-Save 25 percent in Asia, Australia and the South Pacific

Hilton’s B&B rates include a hot breakfast buffet for two people in addition to accommodations. (Kids ages 5 and younger eat free with an accompanying adult.) We checked prices for a one-night weekend stay in July at Hilton New York and found discounted B&B rates starting at $247.20 per night; this beats the hotel’s best available rates at $259 a night, which don’t include breakfast. Clearly this deal is a good choice even for travelers who don’t want to line up for scrambled eggs and potatoes at the hotel buffet.

The Catch: Get ready to commit. A full, nonrefundable payment is required at time of booking. Additionally, a two-week advance purchase is required.

The Competition: This summer, AAA members can get free breakfasts and a 10 percent discount on nightly rates at Hyatt Hotels in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. And we found another breakfast deal that’s worth a mention: BedandBreakfast.com is running a promotion that features $25 off summer stays at B&B’s around the world, where rates, naturally, include the most important meal of the day.

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

— written by Caroline Costello

tsaWhen it comes to the TSA’s complicated carry-on rules, it’s often difficult to remember which items are permitted on the plane and which are subject to confiscation. It’s especially perplexing to determine what, exactly, constitutes a liquid or a gel. Consider those substances that hover between solid and liquid forms, like gooey mashed potatoes or lip gloss — where do they fall on the spectrum of solidity? Think you know the answer? Take our TSA carry-on quiz and find out if you have the know-how to make it through the airport security line.

How did you do? Share your results in the comments! To learn more about TSA rules, read Airport Security Q&A.

— written by Caroline Costello

orange hill beach innWe have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is $175. Jacquelynn F. was the first person to submit the right answer. She has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The rooms pictured in Friday’s post are the private cottages at Orange Hill Beach Inn in Nassau. Rates for these cozy little beachfront cabanas range from $155 to $175 per night, depending on the season. The Inn is located just steps from the ocean and features a pool, a bar and a restaurant. Orange Hill Beach Inn is a popular choice for divers, as it offers an assortment of diving and snorkeling packages. Read more about the Orange Hill Beach Inn in Nassau Essentials.

Check back on Friday for another chance to win.

— written by Caroline Costello