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freeport bahamasEvery 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: Vision Airlines is currently offering base fares to the Bahamas for the price of a song on iTunes. Flights from Fort Lauderdale to Grand Bahama Island are on sale for just $1 each way before taxes. Additionally, fares from other U.S. cities to the tropical destination are selling for as little as $29 each way before taxes. Travel is valid between November 3 and December 19.

Vision is a new airline that just started offering commercial flights to select U.S. cities and to the Bahamas this year. The carrier begins nonstop service from Fort Lauderdale, Louisville, Richmond, Raleigh and Baltimore to Grand Bahama Island in November.

The Catch: Taxes aren’t included in that $1 fare, so your final ticket won’t amount to a buck — nevertheless, we still think this is a great offer. We went through the booking process, and the lowest total fare we found was $122.58 roundtrip, with all taxes and fees (a $4.99-each-way booking fee is also included) for a November flight from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport.

Keep an eye on baggage fees, too. A $15 charge applies per checked bag on each leg of your flight. And if you don’t pay for your bag ahead of time, you’ll shell out $25 per piece of checked luggage at the airport.

The Competition: Right now, travelers can find discounted fall fares from select U.S. cities to the Bahamas from AirTran Airways. AirTran doesn’t fly to Freeport, but you can get to Nassau for as little as $129 each way plus taxes and fees.

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

— written by Caroline Costello

Bernadine's stillman inn galenaHere’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 $275. Justin, who guessed correctly, has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The room pictured was the Honeymoon Suite at Bernadine’s Stillman Inn in Galena, Illinois. The highlight of this spacious suite, which features a living room and two working fireplaces, is a private deck that overlooks the inn’s front courtyard. Bernadine’s Stillman Inn is an excellent B&B choice for history buffs visiting Galena, as the property is located right next to the former home of President Ulysses S. Grant. Read more about Bernadine’s Stillman Inn in Galena 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.

Can you guess the cost of a night in a historic Midwestern mansion? 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:

And, as always, here are some hints to help you win:

-This room, which has two working fireplaces, a whirlpool tub and a private deck with rocking chairs, was originally the formal parlor and dining room in a 19th-century mansion.

-This historic property is located in a Midwestern former mining town where President Ulysses S. Grant once lived.

-A full breakfast, popcorn and cookies are included in the rates.

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 Monday night, October 10, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Tuesday.

— written by Caroline Costello

apple storeIn response to the sad news of Steve Jobs’s passing, the Internet has been inundated with write-ups about the iconic innovator. I spotted one article in particular that provides an interesting commentary from a traveler’s perspective: How Steve Jobs Helped Make Apple Become a Major Disruptor in Travel, by Kevin May.

May tells how Apple shook up the industry by pressuring travel brands to develop mobile apps and mobile-friendly versions of their products. He writes, “What Apple has given consumers is a new means to experience travel — not the actual going away bit, but how they research products, interact with brands, use devices in-resort.” We’ve published lists of trip-transforming travel apps that were, a decade ago, just a twinkle in Jobs’s eye. That awesome ATM finder or the currency conversion app you can’t globetrot without wouldn’t exist if Jobs hadn’t dreamed up the interface for it.

This probably isn’t exactly news to the tech-savvy traveler. Actually, considering the renown of Jobs and his inventions, nor is it news to the technophobe traveler who prints his itinerary on a typewriter. But here’s the exciting part: The biggest and best fruits of Apple may be still to come. Writes May, “For the best part of 18 months, Apple has been busily filing technology patents in the U.S. for essentially what is a series of tools for handheld devices, known as iTravel. These range from search and booking and location information tools, to hotel and airport concierges and cruise trip services.”

Picture this: You arrive at the airport, skip the check-in queue and head straight for security. Your passport and driver’s license are at home in a desk drawer. You don’t need to stand in line to get your boarding pass because it’s already on your iPhone, ready to be scanned — along with your hotel reservations, your itinerary and even your electronic identification. Patently Apple published a summary of a patent filed by Apple in 2010 that would allow travelers to accomplish just this. The patent even foretells the possibility of airport security checkpoints that use “automatic identity verification,” such as facial recognition technology or retina scans coupled with electronic ID’s stored on handheld devices, to speed travelers through security.

It’s exciting, inspiring stuff. Jobs may be gone, but he lives on through his technology, and through the already incalculable impact he’s had on the way we travel.

— written by Caroline Costello

seniors car driveEvery 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.

Age has its privileges — such as grandkids, retirement, a lifetime’s worth of passport stamps and, of course, those enticing senior discounts. But older travelers could find themselves facing a few unpleasant surprises as well. As we caution in International Car Rental Tips: “Be aware that many countries have a minimum and maximum age for renters. Drivers under the age of 25 or over the age of 70 may face surcharges or not be permitted to rent at all.”

Here in the U.S., the idea of a maximum rental age is nearly unheard of. But if you’re a senior traveler headed overseas, it’s important to check ahead.

For example, Auto Europe’s Web site states that renters in Ireland may not be over age 75, and that those over 70 may be subject to additional fees. (Editor’s Note: An Auto Europe spokesperson tells us that this maximum age does not necessarily apply to all of the company’s suppliers.) On Budget Rent a Car’s Web site, we found maximum ages of 75 in Aruba, 65 in Jamaica and just 60 in Morocco. Apollo Car Rental in Australia permits renters over the age of 75, but only with a doctor’s note.

Seniors can often evade these restrictions by shopping around, as terms and conditions vary widely from company to company. An 80-year-old traveler looking to rent in Ireland can try booking with Hertz, which permits renters over 75 as long as they’re willing to jump through a few hoops. “Customers aged over 75 can rent with specific conditions,” says a pop-up on the Hertz Web site. “You must drive on a regular basis, you will need to provide to the counter a letter from your doctor to state you have been in good health for at least 12 months and a letter from your insurance company to state you have not had an accident within the last 5 years, that you hold a current policy of motor insurance with them and that you are currently driving.”

Tips for Senior Travelers

Never book a car without reading the fine print. If you’re traveling with a younger companion, you can save money and avoid hassle by naming that person as the driver on your rental contract. If all else fails, look into guided tours or local public transportation instead.

Older travelers, have you ever had trouble renting a car overseas?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

I may get pelted with geraniums for admitting this, but here goes: Claude Monet’s ultra-famous gardens in Giverny, while objectively artful, left me cold. It’s like the painter left his vision behind but took the soul of it with him to the grave. They’re just too … perfect.

I visited Giverny as a port of call on a recent Seine River cruise. It was clear that the Impressionist’s two gardens, which he created so he could paint his visions of paradise, are unspeakably lush and immaculately tended (the place has a team of full-time gardeners). And yes, as you amble through his water garden, wander over the iconic Japanese bridge and peer into the pond to see if the water lilies are flowering yet, you can almost imagine yourself in one of his paintings.


monet giverny garden

To me, though, there was something sterile about the place, despite the perfectly tended pathways and the thousands of visitors with whom I shared my wanderings, and in spite of the whizzing sound of cars passing by (one thing the glamorous photos don’t show you is that a two-lane highway separates the garden by the house from the water garden). The fluorescently illuminated gift shop, as big as a barn, was full of cheap crap-knacks, such as “Lady with a Parasol”-on-magnet or “Water-Lily Pond”-on-polyester-scarf, that are meant to appeal to the masses. Indeed, Monet’s garden, as a daytripper’s jaunt from Paris, draws a half million visitors per year.

If you’re in the area, the pilgrimage to Monet’s place is obligatory, but keep it short. A better way to spend a day in Giverny is to wander into the heart of its village. Grab a stool in the bar at the ancient Hotel Baudy, where the artists who followed Monet to Giverny bartered paintings for food (their work still hangs there). Check out the artists’ studio in the back garden that’s been preserved as it was a century ago. And feel free to wander through the garden that for Baudy’s owner is as much a labor of love as was Monet’s. It’s got lavender and geraniums, benches you can sit on, and forested alcoves for private musing. It may not have that pond full of water lilies. But it’s got soul in spades.

hotel baudy artists studio

Slideshow: Top 10 Undiscovered Destinations

— written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

cozumel cabana seaEvery 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: Not ready to stow those summer flip-flops for another year? Grab your sandals and book a fall or winter trip to someplace sunny and warm — and save up to $550 in the process. Funjet Vacations is currently offering a special 72-hour sale on air/hotel or hotel-only trips to Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii.

The more you spend on your vacation, the more you save. For example, if your total trip cost is between $1,500 and $2,000, you’ll get a discount of $115. Raise the total to between $2,001 and $3,000, and you’ll save $200. You get the picture. For the maximum discount of $550, you’ll have to spend at least $6,001.

The Catch: This isn’t the type of sale you can mull over for a week or two before booking. Come this Thursday at 6 p.m. CT, it’ll be gone — so make your decision and act quickly.

The Competition: Hyatt is offering up to $500 in resort credit at participating properties in Aruba, Cancun, Maui, Key West and other sunny destinations. Unlike the Funjet discount, which reduces the total cost of your trip, this credit is like free extra cash that you can spend on spa treatments, meals and activities at your resort.

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

— written by Sarah Schlichter

world map travel travelerWhile I’m not sure I’d call myself a “lazy traveler,” I do like to keep things as simple as possible. After countless road trips and plane rides, I’ve developed a few tips and strategies that will make your next trip more comfortable. These tips work for short or long trips and do not require a degree in rocket science in order to apply them to your travel style.

1. Wear slip-on shoes. Whether you are working your way through airport security or headed out on a long road trip, slip-on shoes make life much more relaxing. At the airport you don’t have to be “that guy” blocking up the security line because he’s untying his shoes. Just make sure you have clean, hole-free socks — and ladies, if it’s summertime, we recommend a fresh pedicure.

Airport Security: Your Questions Answered

2. Books and e-readers are nice, but audio books are better. Carrying an iPod or mp3 player is much easier than lugging around a book or Kindle. On our last flight, my husband and I actually shared headphones, each using one earbud, in order to finish up a book we’d both been listening to in the car via my mp3 player. It was a riveting storyline and our two-hour flight was over in no time.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

3. Always pack a hat. Having a hat is essential to comfortable travel. It not only warms your head, but if necessary it can also be used to cool the neck by tucking hair up into it. Hats shield the eyes from outdoor glare, and can block the light if you’re trying to catch a few Z’s at an airport or on a bus. And if you haven’t washed your hair in a few days? A hat hides a multitude of sins.

Another Reason You Should Always Pack a Hat

4. Bring bills. This one may seem irrelevant in the age of ATM’s and credit cards, but I find it’s always nice to have a little traveling cash on hand in order to tip the cab driver or buy a sweet treat from a street vendor. You might even discover a cool little cash-only restaurant — yes, these establishments still exist, and the smaller the town, the more likely that you’ll stumble across one. Believe me, you don’t want to miss out on the world’s best eggs Benedict just because you didn’t have a little cash in your pocket.

The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas

5. Keep headache medicine and antacids readily available. No matter how laid-back you are about traveling, there’s bound to be something that causes a little headache or upset stomach along the way. Travel usually comes with a change in diet, which can be tough on the digestive system, and lack of sleep or dehydration can result in a headache. It’s better to be prepared than to have to track down a $10 aspirin in the airport or at a tourist trap.

Avoiding the Airplane Cold

— written by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer, a journalist and freelance writer from Northern Colorado. She is also the Mayor of HeidiTown.com, a blog about Colorado events and festivals.

inn of the five graces santa fe courtyard nightHere’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 $425. Nancy James, who guessed the rate right on the nose, has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The room pictured was the Camellia Room at the Inn of Five Graces in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The property’s 24 lushly decorated suites and guestrooms, many recently redesigned, evoke the spirit and style of the East — as does the inn’s name, which refers to the Tibetan view of the five senses as “graces” with which we experience the world. For travelers who just want to experience Santa Fe, the inn makes a convenient base; it’s located two blocks from the city’s historic Plaza. Learn more about the city in Santa Fe Weekend Getaways.

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

— written by Sarah Schlichter