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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 price of a night near the slopes in Utah? 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 travel mug. Here’s the room:



And here are three little hints to help you win:

-This property is the closest B&B to a major ski resort in Utah.

-This room has a queen-size bed and a bathroom with a jetted tub.

-Free Wi-Fi and daily hot breakfast are included in the rates.

We’re looking for the maximum nightly price based on double occupancy as listed on the property’s Web site, excluding holidays, coupon codes or package rates. Enter your answer by Monday, January 2, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Tuesday.

– written by Caroline Costello

See the world through the eyes of a suitcase. The “eyes,” in this instance, are six cameras that Delta Airlines attached to a piece of checked luggage. Delta recorded the bag’s journey from check-in counter to baggage claim area and posted the footage on YouTube. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll sway to a spacey New Age soundtrack as you watch the bag hitch a ride on a flight from Atlanta to New York. (I predict a big-budget Hollywood remake to follow.)



Note the teaser at the end: “Now you can track your bag’s journey.” Passengers aren’t permitted to attach spy cams onto their own Samsonites — at least not yet. But Delta’s making it easier to keep tabs on luggage with another kind of gadget. The airline has created a new app that allows travelers to follow the whereabouts of their checked bags on their smartphones. (Be sure that you don’t try tracking your bag during take-off or landing, lest you end up like Alec Baldwin.)

The app follows checked bags much the way postal services track packages, by providing a tracking code along with periodic status updates. In addition, fliers can use the app to get flight alerts, check in, make seat changes, rebook flights and more. Delta’s app is free, and it’s available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. Download it here.

– written by Caroline Costello

full body scanner tsa airport securityEvery 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.

Just how safe are those full body scanners that are becoming a familiar fixture in airports around the U.S.? Not safe enough, says the European Union, which banned backscatter X-ray machines in airports across Europe last month, citing traveler health concerns.

Because the machines emit ionizing radiation, some scientists suggest that passengers who pass through the scanners could be at increased risk of cancer. One researcher interviewed by PBS/ProPublica predicts that the machines could potentially “give 100 travelers cancer every year.” (See the video below for the full report.)

The TSA staunchly maintains that the machines are safe. A spokesperson told us last year that “each full body scan with backscatter produces less than 10 microREM of emission, the equivalent to the exposure each person receives in about two minutes of airplane flight at altitude.” To read the entire statement we received from the TSA, see From Pat-Downs to Full Body Scanners: The TSA Firestorm.

The backscatter machines are one of two types of full body scanners used at U.S. airports. Millimeter wave machines (which are still legal in Europe) are generally considered the safer option because they use lower-frequency electromagnetic waves instead of radiation.

If you’re concerned about the backscatter machines, you have a few options. Before you step through the security checkpoint, ask the TSA agent which type of machine is in use. If your lane has a backscatter scanner instead of a millimeter wave machine, you may want to skip the scan entirely and choose a pat-down by a same-gender TSA agent instead. Also, keep an eye out for the old-fashioned metal detectors, which are still in use in many security lanes across the U.S.



Are you concerned about the safety of the backscatter machines?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Ruins in Vietnam What do flying celebrities, a speeding cruise ship and a misbehaving monk have in common? Well, other than a collective disregard for authority, they’re all featured in The Most Bizarre Travel Stories of 2011, our collection of stranger-than-fiction happenings that took place this year.

While these tales were crazy enough to make the news in 2011, there are undoubtedly untold weird and wild adventures lurking in the memory banks of most travelers. And now that the year is coming to an end, it’s time to purge. We want to hear your battiest travel tales! What happened to you during your travels that was unexpected, unexplained or unbelievable?

We’ll go first. You may have heard about the Airbnb debacle that took place earlier this year when a savage renter ransacked the San Francisco home of an Airbnb host. Well, Sarah Schlichter, Editor of IndependentTraveler.com, had her own bizarre — albeit somewhat less newsworthy — experience with Airbnb.

When visiting Vancouver, Schlichter stayed in the spare room of a West End condo along with her host and another guest. On the second night of Schlichter’s stay, an argument erupted over toilet paper — and let’s just say the stay didn’t end well for all parties involved. Read the whole wacky story here.

Now it’s your turn. Tell us about the most bizarre thing that happened to you while traveling this year and you could win a prize. Post your comment by 11:59 Eastern Time on Tuesday, January 3. We’ll pick one commenter to receive a set of packing cubes and a pair of SuperSmartTag luggage tags.

– written by Caroline Costello

Ballybunion Castle RuinsEvery 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: In just a few weeks, airlines will have to include government taxes and fees when advertising ticket prices, in accordance with new U.S. Department of Transportation regulations that kick in on January 24. Some carriers, like Lufthansa and Air France, have already begun posting full-fare ticket prices online.

Aer Lingus is the latest airline to start displaying fares in a more truthful manner. The Irish carrier just announced that it will publish prices inclusive of all taxes and fees from this point forward. It’s quite refreshing to click around on a booking rate calendar and see numbers that are actually reflective of final ticket prices — especially when combing through already-low sale fares.

Rolling out all-inclusive rates along with this competitive sale, which offers across-the-pond flights for less than $500 roundtrip, was a smart move, Aer Lingus. The sale features discounted fares to Dublin from more than 30 U.S. cities, with roundtrip tickets starting at $447.91 (which would be a pretty good price even if it didn’t include the extra fees).

The Catch: These fares are valid for travel in January, February and March, which is Ireland’s low season for tourism. In some destinations on the isle, attractions, restaurants and hotels may be closed for winter; but this doesn’t mean you can’t plan a worthy Ireland getaway. Stick to big cities like Dublin, Belfast or Galway — which will offer a wider selection of year-round attractions than small towns — and contact local tourist information offices ahead of time to make sure that the places you want to see will be open.

The Competition: Lufthansa is also running a Europe winter fare sale; this one offers some nicely priced routes, as well as a wide selection of departure and destination gateways. Fares start at $507 roundtrip (that price is for a flight from New York to Dublin), including all taxes and fees.

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

– written by Caroline Costello

Sayre MansionHere’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 $325 per night. Greti, who gave the first correct answer, has won an IndependentTraveler.com neck pillow.

The room pictured was Suite 3 at the Sayre Mansion in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The mansion is the former home of famous “Christmas City” resident Robert Sayre, who was chief engineer of the Lehigh Valley Railroad in the 19th century. This historic B&B has 22 guest rooms — including three spacious suites in the property’s carriage house — and is a short walk from Lehigh University and downtown Bethlehem.

– 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.

Welcome to the holiday edition of our weekly hotel guessing game! What’s the price of a night in “Christmas City”? 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 travel neck pillow. Here’s a shot of the room’s spacious bathroom:



And here are three little hints to help you win:

-This suite has a king-size bed, a living room with a queen-size sofa bed, a working fireplace and a jetted tub.

-This suite is in the carriage house of a historic B&B located in “Christmas City,” Pennsylvania.

-Free Wi-Fi and daily hot breakfast are included in the rates.

We’re looking for the maximum nightly price based on double occupancy as listed on the property’s Web site, excluding holidays, coupon codes or package rates. Enter your answer by Monday, December 26, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Tuesday.

– written by Caroline Costello

pilotsDoes a nap a day keep a plane crash away? Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced new regulations that will allow commercial airline pilots to get more rest before hitting the runway. The FAA placed limits on the maximum number of hours a pilot can be on duty and set new requirements for rest periods between scheduled flights, reports a press release issued by the government agency.

Here’s what will change: The maximum number of consecutive hours a pilot can be on call will decrease from 16 to a span of nine to 14 hours (depending on when the pilot started and how many segments he must fly). Pilots may not fly longer than eight or nine hours at a time, and they’ll have to take breaks of 10 hours or longer between shifts. Additionally, pilots will get 25 percent more time off between work weeks — up to 30 consecutive hours of break time. Airlines must adhere to the new requirements within two years.

Overall, this is a major upgrade to the FAA’s existing regulations, which had pilots toiling for longer hours and resting less, and were not consistently applicable to all types of U.S. passenger flights. The upgraded requirements, says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, were enacted to perk up pilot performance on the job. Said LaHood, “We made a promise to the traveling public that we would do everything possible to make sure pilots are rested when they get in the cockpit. This new rule raises the safety bar to prevent fatigue.”

According to the Associated Press, safety advocates have been pressuring the FAA to update pilot work rules for years, but resistance from the airlines kept any amendments on hold. It took tragedy — the Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash that killed 50 people in 2009 — to enact change. Families of those who died in the Colgan Air crash, which the National Transportation Safety Board attributed to pilot error, lobbied for new rules to fight pilot fatigue — and today, they won.

Will you feel safer flying when the FAA’s new rules come into effect? Take our poll, and share your thoughts in the comments!



– written by Caroline Costello

airport airplane snowEvery 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.

Fliers, grab your scarves and brace yourselves. Winter starts tomorrow, ushering in the season of snow, ice, sleet, freezing rain and other weather conditions guaranteed to make your life miserable at the airport. And if it’s anything like last year, this winter could be a doozy. (Here in New Jersey, I didn’t see my front lawn for two months straight.)

Don’t let the season snow on your parade this year. Delayed and canceled flights are almost a given during winter storms, so if the 10-day forecast looks grim before your departure date, consider the following tip from Ed Hewitt:

“Most hotels don’t charge your card until you show up at the front desk, so you can usually safely book a room and cancel if your flight does take off reasonably on time. If you’re stuck in an airport without easy Internet access, a good tactic is to have on hand the phone number of your preferred booking Web site. … Check out airport hotels first. Subsequently look for off-airport hotels that offer shuttle service to the airport so you can ditch your rental car or otherwise count on a ride to the airport without too much trouble or expense.”

For best results, book that airport hotel several days before your scheduled departure date, and then cancel the reservation if you don’t need it; it’ll be much easier to find a room in advance than on the day a foot of snow closes your airport and leaves thousands of travelers stranded. Just be sure to check the hotel’s cancellation policy.

For more advice, read Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope and Winter Travel Tips.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

christmas crackersThe trend-happy team at AAA expects some 5.4 million leisure travelers to fly this holiday season. We won’t speculate on how many will be schlepping their Christmas cacti, fruitcakes and eggnog through the security checkpoint, but we will offer a stern warning: season of merriment or not, the TSA has strict rules about what you can and cannot carry onto a plane.

Blogger Bob, lead blogger for the TSA, offered a few holiday do’s and dont’s on a recent post, and we filled in some of his key omissions, including snowman-shaped dry ice and Christmas-themed fauna.

Do bring your fruitcake. As a solid (sometimes too much of a solid), fruitcakes of all manner are permitted through the checkpoint. Fruitcakes doubling as weapons caches are not allowed.

Don’t bring Christmas crackers. These noise-making apparatuses (pictured above), often designed to look like candy or wooden soldiers, are prohibited on aircraft. The chemical that triggers the cap-gun pop and mental breakdown of a least favorite in-law when the crackers are torn is silver fulminate, which is highly explosive.

Do bring 3.4 ounces or less of eggnog. As a liquid, eggnog is allowed only within the limits set forth by the TSA’s always confounding 3-1-1 guidelines.

Don’t bring Yule logs. We’re actually a little confused about this one, but Blogger Bob says they should be placed in your checked baggage; perhaps this is because Yule logs are traditionally extremely large, so they probably won’t fit within the carry-on baggage size limits outlined by your airline.

Do bring your mini Christmas cactus. As long as you’re traveling between U.S. gateways, it’s fine to bring along a Christmas cactus or any other holiday-related plant. However, if you’re traveling internationally, you may have issues with customs, as many countries have restrictions on bringing agricultural products across international borders.

Maybe bring wrapped gifts. Blogger Bob confirms that wrapped gifts are allowed in carry-on luggage, but not encouraged. He explains: “If there’s something in the gift that needs to be inspected, we may have to open it. Our officers try their best not to mangle the gift wrap, but it’s not a guarantee and it also slows down the line for everybody else when we have to do this.”

Do bring a dry-ice snowman to keep your medications cool … if it’s not too heavy. The U.S. government has strict regulations regarding dry ice on airplanes. Passengers may bring 2 kilograms of the substance in carry-on luggage as long as it’s stored in a package that allows the venting of carbon dioxide gas. Still, a DOT spokesperson suggested to us at one point that travelers avoid packing dry ice in carry-on luggage. Individual TSA agents unfamiliar with DOT regulations may confiscate the substance and foil your plans to add a festive touch to your medical needs.

For more on what you can and can’t bring through airport checkpoints, peruse Airport Security Q&A.

– written by Dan Askin