Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

Editor’s Note: Please see our new review/giveaway of this bag.

We’ve found a carry-on bag that does more than, er, carry. It’s a $66 bag that could pay for itself in just one flight (depending on which airline you choose) — a bag that was designed in direct response to ever-evolving airline fees and bag-size restrictions.

On most airlines, there’s an easy way to avoid baggage fees: restrict yourself to a carry-on bag only. But on ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines (one of those airlines we love to hate), you’ll have to break out your wallet no matter how efficiently you pack. The airline charges up to $45 each way for checked bags and up to $40 for carry-ons. (Even joining Spirit’s $9 Fare Club will merely reduce the fees, not waive them.) The only thing you can bring for free is a single personal item small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.

Before all you Spirit fliers start trying to jam a week’s worth of clothes into your purse, check out the luggage at CarryOn Free. Smaller than a standard carry-on bag, the CarryOn Free rolling suitcase is specifically designed to meet Spirit’s size restrictions for personal items (16″ x 14″ x 12″). Two zipper pockets help travelers stay organized and make the most of limited packing space.

carryon free

At $65.99, the bag pays for itself the first time you avoid Spirit’s carry-on fee (up to $80 roundtrip). But even better, you can win one for free. We’re giving away a tan and copper carry-on to one lucky reader who leaves a comment below. Just share your smartest packing tip in the comments by Tuesday, September 27 at 11:59 p.m. ET for a chance to win.

Editor’s Note: This giveaway has ended. Stay tuned for further chances to win!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

paris winterEvery 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 or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Fall’s first day is Friday, but travelers mourning the end of summer can take comfort in knowing that super-cheap winter flights are a-comin’. Scratch that — they’re here already. Aer Lingus, the Irish discount airline, has just rolled out an expansive low-season Europe sale featuring tickets as cheap as $227 each way plus taxes and fees. Travel is valid this winter, from November through March.

Book early for your winter trip and you’ll snag low fares — but you’ll also have plenty of flight options from which to choose. We did some digging and found low-priced tickets available on a wide range of Aer Lingus transatlantic flights. For example, a quick search for discounted flights departing on November 23 turned up 16 departures throughout the day, each for $233 each way or less. The cheapest total price we unearthed, for a flight from New York to London in November, totaled $691.76 including all taxes and fees.

The Catch: Be choosy about your European destination when planning a winter trip. Some places in Europe — the ones with skiing, Christmas markets or dog sledding — make for spectacular cold-weather travel. Other European cities and towns basically shut down when the tourist season ends.

The Competition: Fall and early winter flights to Europe are currently on sale from Icelandair, with fares starting at $489 roundtrip plus taxes and fees. However, the very cheapest fares are only available on a few dates in October.

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

— written by Caroline Costello

Group deals are always popping into my life. My mom gives me print-outs of Groupon deals for Christmas each year without fail (she puts the coupons in boxes and wraps them). And when I’m not opening Groupons from “Santa,” I see group deals shared aplenty in my Facebook feed, or forwarded to my inbox from friends, family and, well, people I barely know.

I’m heading to Paris for vacation this week. So I caved to social pressure and checked out the Groupon Paris page to see if any boulangerie bargains or cut-rate city tours could be found. I stumbled upon this deal, a half-price cruise on the Canal Saint-Martin:

paris groupon

Not bad. This Groupon offered a scenic canal cruise, which normally would have cost 18 euros, for just 9 euros per person. But there was one problem: You may have noticed that the Groupon was published in French. I desperately combed this page for a mini American or British flag and found nothing. The solution, I found, was to copy and paste all text into Google Translate (http://translate.google.com/). Or learn to speak fluent French.

Now, this was where things got tricky. The booking process was in French as well. And the bit where I had to enter my address didn’t give the option to specify a country. Here’s what it looked like:

booking paris groupon

I tried to type in my U.S. address along with my credit card information, but my order was rejected; I assume this happened because the system, by default, deemed that I live in France. I took a second stab at the purchase, but paid with PayPal instead of a credit card. It worked, probably because PayPal already has my home address in its system. I paid $25.29 for two cruise tickets; this was the final price according to PayPal’s exchange rate, which was a slightly more expensive conversion rate than the current interbank rate as seen on XE.com ($24.55).

It’s clear that Groupon’s international pages are designed for local customers. Still, with a PayPal account and a little translation, it’s possible to grab some good discounts in faraway destinations. The same goes for Living Social, which, like Groupon, has a wide selection of international deals that are published in local languages. Given that these sites often run promotions for restaurants, excursions, transportation and other goodies that would be useful during a trip, it’s worth signing up to receive local deals e-mails for the destination you’re visiting next. (Other group deals sites, including BuyWithMe, dealfind and DealOn, offer lots of bargains across the U.S. but have a limited international reach.)

Have you used a local group deal site when traveling?

— written by Caroline Costello

Moore Farm House B&B Here’s the answer to last week’s “How Much Is This Hotel?” quiz. Play along with future hotel quizzes by subscribing to our blog.

We have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is $129 a night. Bill mashek, the first person to give us the correct answer, has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The room pictured was Vera’s Room, a one-bedroom suite at the Moore Farm House B&B. This country-style property in Conway, South Carolina (about a 20-minute drive from Myrtle Beach) lures travelers with homemade hot breakfast, antique furnishings and Southern hospitality. For fun, guests can play billiards in the B&B’s library or take a river walk in Conway, a town set on the Waccamaw. Read more about the the Moore Farm House in Myrtle Beach Weekend Getaways.

Check back this Friday for another shot at winning a prize.

— written by Caroline Costello

Every Friday, we’ll feature a photo of an unidentified hotel here, on our blog, and we want you to guess how much it costs to stay there. Leave your guess in the comments below and you could win a prize. Get the answer in your inbox by subscribing to our blog.

What’s the cost of a room in a farmhouse near the sea? 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). The first person to guess closest to the price of the room without going over wins an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt. Here’s the room:

Here are three hints to help you win:

-This room, which sleeps two, has an antique double bed and is decorated in the style of a historic farmhouse.

-Rates include complimentary Wi-Fi and homemade breakfast.

-This hotel is located in a historic river town set 15 miles from Myrtle Beach.

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, September 18, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Monday.

— written by Caroline Costello

lost luggageAccording to a report by SITA, a company that collects information for airlines, carriers mishandled 12.07 pieces of luggage for every 1,000 passengers worldwide this year. Yet while it’s statistically unlikely that your airline will lose your bag, it seems like every flier has had a lost luggage experience at one point in his or her travel career. Last week, we blogged about 3 High-Tech Luggage Tags That Will Save Your Trip and invited our readers to share their lost bag stories. In response, we received more than a hundred tales of woe — proof that suitcases lost by the airlines are, unfortunately, pretty common.

What to Do When Your Luggage Is Lost

The bad news: You lost your luggage. The good news: We’re sending free SuperSmartTags to three randomly selected readers who commented on last week’s post. Congratulations to agnes daily, Marie Elise Marino Gervais and Linda Duran — our winners!

Below are five lost luggage horror stories submitted by our readers. Have you shared your story yet? Post it in the comments!

Just Picture the Audience in Their Underwear
“I had gone to a national convention, where I was to receive an award in front of around 2000. Of course, my luggage got lost. I arrived on a Sunday and could find no clothing stores in downtown Denver. I was so embarrassed to be standing on stage, in a T-shirt and jeans, among all the suits.” — Gregory Ellis

Lobster and Found
“My daughter in Netherlands wanted to surprise our Dutch son-in-law with a true Maine lobster meal for his February birthday. So, as a Maine native living in Maine, I steamed lobsters, shelled them, ‘ZZZZip-locked’ the pieces, secured the tasty bodies and claws tightly between ‘blue gel-packs,’ and froze the units. On the morning of the overnight trip, the lobster packs went into a thermal picnic bag and stayed safely outside in the ‘wicked cold’ February weather.

“All went well on the trip except for a fact we discovered at Schiphol Airport: The lobsters went to Paris while we went to Amsterdam! However, the thermal bag arrived about 36 hours later and all was well! The lobster was still frozen solid, and the son-in law had his birthday wish granted.” — agnes dailey

Lightning Struck Twice
“Flying from Cleveland to Denver for a visit with friends, my luggage was lost. It was finally returned to me one week later, an hour before I was due to leave for the airport. Upon checking it in, I mentioned that it had been lost for a week and to please take good care of it. The reply: ‘Oh, don’t worry. Lightening never strikes twice.’ As you can guess, it did strike again and the luggage was lost forever.” — S J Foster

Bag and Switch
“On the shuttle from the parking lot to the airport, an older man took my carry-on bag when getting off the shuttle heading to his car. I took his look-alike bag into the airport. Prior to check-in I opened my carry-on to get my ID out and was shocked to find a suitcase full of men’s underwear! I had no itinerary, no identification, no meds, no money, no credit cards, and no munchie foods for my 7+ hour trip. The airport was three hours from my home, so there was no way to return home for the needed items. Luckily, the airline personnel asked me a bunch of security questions and let me on the plane. A pharmacy at my destination gave me a temp supply of medication, and the friend who was meeting me at my destination helped me out monetarily until we could get to a bank on Monday. The gentleman who took my bag called my contact info the next day and generously sent my bag to my parent’s home. What a nightmare. … Now all of my bags are adorned with hideous ribbons and flowers tied to the handles.” — Teresa

Snowed Under
“I learned the hard way never to put my home address on the outside of my suitcase. I was on a three-month work assignment to China and my huge suitcase was lost. I had nothing when I arrived in China. Three months later, I arrived home to a suitcase covered with eight inches of snow.” — Joan

— written by Caroline Costello

moneyTypically, we aim to showcase travel deals that save you money — like this half-price cruise to the Western Mediterranean. But a few deals for hostel dorm beds during the 2012 London Olympics (July 27 to August 12) were so frightening that we had to share.

Sites like Expedia and Hotels.com have policies dictating that you can’t book rooms more than 11 months out, which means they’re only now allowing reservations coinciding with the Olympics.

Here’s what we found: A 28-bed all-male dorm room at Palmers Lodge Hostel (just south of Hampstead Heath) is on sale for $157.50 per person, per night on Hotels.com — that’s about $4,400 per night for the whole room. (The rate includes 28 breakfasts.) That said, whichever bed you book in the hotel, be it in an ensuite double or an eight-person female-only room, the per-person price remains the same. (Hint: Palmers’ direct booking prices are significantly cheaper than those posted by Hotels.com.)

Want to stay at Hostel 639, a spot near Notting Hill, during similar dates? On Hotels.com, the per-person price for a night at Hostel 639 is equal to rates for a dorm at Palmers — but Hostel’s rates are two times what Palmers offers for a basic double with shared bathroom. That’s more than $500 per night for two travelers. Reserve a quad room today and you’ll pay $1,000 per night. Booking sites, including Hotels.com and Venere.com, have rates starting at less than $20 (includes taxes) for stays at the same properties this September.

These price hikes should come as no surprise, since news outlets have been reporting on soaring rates during the Olympics in London for some time. But perhaps we can be optimistic that the hoteliers are being, well, optimistic. Tom Jenkins, chief executive of the European Tour Operators Association (ETOA), told the Telegraph, “In Athens [host city of the 2004 Olympics], around 15,000 hotel rooms were sold. London has 125,000 rooms to sell. Such optimistic pricing in the face of such disparity is extremely brave.”

David Tarsh, another spokesman for the ETOA, has been widely quoted as saying visitors to London during the Olympics should wait until early next year before booking accommodations; Tarsh has predicted that hotels with unsold rooms will be forced to reduce their prices by that time.

Have you ever stumbled upon a hotel deal that was too bad to be true? Share it in the comments.

— written by Dan Askin

moroccan couscous chicken dishEvery 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 or signing up for our newsletter.

For every unique and tasteful souvenir, there’s a raft of cheap “I ♥ New York” mugs, useless bobblehead figures and oh-so-classy boxer shorts imprinted with the X-rated bits of Michelangelo’s David statue. Your trip deserves better.

I’ve found my own way to memorialize my travels, and it doesn’t start till I get home. As I wrote in 35 Travel Tips Revealed: Top Secrets of Travel Writers, “I like to bring a little bit of each trip home with me — and not just with postcards. After I return from a foreign country, I always try to recreate a local dish in my own kitchen, like Moroccan couscous or Belizean stewed chicken. The smell of the meal will often transport me right back to the place I just left.”

Be warned: It sometimes takes a little experimenting and Web searching to find a recipe that truly lives up to the flavors and scents you remember. Learning to cook in a new style can be a challenge too (I set my wok on fire one of the first few times I tried to season it). And don’t be surprised if you have to venture out to a specialty grocer for that hard-to-find banana flower, yuca root or Sichuan pepper.

But for me, the hassle is all worth it when the scent of toasting cumin calls up vivid sense memories of those colorful Moroccan spice markets I loved to visit. It’s the next best thing to being there.

What’s your favorite memento of your travels?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

DubrovnikEvery 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 or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Explore botanical gardens, medieval ramparts, Roman ruins and turquoise seas in the heart of the Mediterranean this fall — and pocket half the cost of your trip. We unearthed a romantic Europe cruise that’s selling for less than 50 percent of its original price on Cruise.com. This week-long Western Mediterranean sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas is currently on sale starting at $349 per person. The seven-night cruise departs Venice on October 17 and visits Dubrovnik, Valletta, Cartagena and Gibraltar, debarking on October 24 in Malaga.

This cruise was originally listed on the Royal Caribbean Web site with rates starting at $799 for a Superior Interior Stateroom. The same stateroom is now on offer from Cruise.com for $349, which is a savings of more than 50 percent. Discounts are available on other cabins as well. Book a Large Oceanview Stateroom for $379 or a Balcony Cabin for $669. (All rates mentioned are per person, before taxes and fees.) Cruise.com is also throwing in prepaid gratuities, which generally amount to $10.50 per person, per day.

The Catch: This cruise kicks off in one port and ends in another. As a result, you may have a tricky time finding affordable transportation, as multi-leg plane tickets tend to be expensive.

The Competition: American Discount Cruises & Travel is offering a seven-night Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, which sails roundtrip from Rome in late October, with rates starting at $549 per person. Find this offer and more discounted sailings in our Cruise Deals.

— written by Caroline Costello

 Villa Mistral, St. JohnWhat do a private Caribbean island, a 16th-century Tuscan estate and the former abode of Frank Sinatra have in common? They’re all available on Jetset Homes, a new luxury vacation rentals booking site that kicked off today.

The just-launched rental site, which can be found under the “Homes” tab on Jetsetter.com, currently offers more than 200 luxury properties worldwide. According to a press release from the company, “Jetsetter’s inventory of vacation homes is located around the world, with a high concentration in the Caribbean, Mexico, the American West, California, France and Italy. Size and price vary from a five-bedroom house in Crete for $310 per night to a palatial 14-bedroom mansion on a private Caribbean island for $53,000 per night.”

How Private Sale Travel Sites Could Save You Money

The release also reports that Jetset Homes will feature flash sales for a handful of its luxury listings on a weekly basis. The site will slash prices of five to 10 rental properties by 20 to 50 percent each week.

It looks like even more savings are on offer in honor of the big launch. When I logged onto the site this morning, a coupon popped up touting $500 off my first Jetset Homes booking. (A minimum five-night stay is required, and the savings are automatically deducted at checkout.) Here’s what the coupon looks like:

jetset homes coupon

A $500 coupon sounds like an astonishing offer to a plebian sale-sniffing traveler like myself. But considering the astronomical nightly rates of the places listed on Jetset Homes, there’s no reason to reach for that credit card without some careful budgetary consideration. The listings on Jetset Homes, which feature big, colorful photos, are excellent fodder for travel fantasy. (Play “Which One Would I Book?” during your lunch break.) However, a week’s stay at one of these spots could cost as much as a Prius.

There is one way to stay at a Jetset Homes property without selling your vehicle. For traveling groups, Jetset Homes may actually offer reasonable prices, and some of the houses listed on the site can sleep up to 20 people. For example, a night’s stay at Casa Kimball, a clifftop estate in the Dominican Republic, sells for $2,800. But the property can fit 20 travelers within its two-building, eight-bedroom expanse. Is there a family reunion, group getaway or destination wedding on your horizon? Split the cost among 20 and each guest will only pay about $140 per night for his or her accommodations.

Jetsetter is a members-only private sale travel site. So, whether you want to stare at pretty pictures or sell your Prius and book a stay, you’ll have to join to get access to the luxury listings on Jetset Homes.

Would you book a stay with Jetset Homes?

— written by Caroline Costello