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Harbour IslandEvery 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: Major winter storms have hit the Midwest, and the darkest day of the year just happens to be Thursday. These tidings are reason enough to drop everything — even that fancy ribbon bow you’re struggling with, which is just going to get ripped off the present anyway — and run as fast as you can to the Caribbean.

Here’s more vindication for a vacation in the sun: the Islands of the Bahamas Tourism Board is offering up to $400 cash back for winter trips to said destination. Save $400 on stays of six nights or longer or save $250 on stays of five nights at select properties in the Bahamas (there’s a long list of eligible hotels on the tourism board’s Web site). To get this deal, you must book an air-inclusive package through the Bahamas Tourism Board.

The Catch: Sorry, spring breakers and summer vacationers. This offer is valid for travel from January 1 through March 14 and April 15 through June 20 — so choice spring break and summer vacation travel dates are not covered in this sale.

The Competition: The Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board is offering discounts for travelers heading to what it calls “the real Bahamas,” the less-traveled Bahamian atolls outside of New Providence and Grand Bahama Island. Receive up to two free plane tickets with purchase of an air-inclusive package to participating local resorts on islands like Andros, Cat Island and Eleuthera. Keep in mind that the Bahamas Tourism Board deal detailed above is also valid for stays at some hotels in Out Islands, so check out both deals before booking your Bahamas trip.

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

– written by Caroline Costello

Barcelona“What did you think of Barcelona? Did you get pickpocketed?”

It’s been barely a week since I returned from Catalonia, and already I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had to field this kind of question. No one asked, “How was the hotel?” (Haunted, in fact.) Or “What were the football fans like?” (Amiable, surprisingly enough.) Or even “Did you see any of Gaudi’s architecture?” (Yes, though paying to get into the Casa Batllo was probably as close to being pickpocketed as we actually came.) For a lot of people, there seems to be an enduring association between Barcelona and theft.

This is, as far as we could tell, completely unfounded. Before my girlfriend and I left, we were given warnings by my parents, her parents, her grandparents, colleagues, the man behind the counter in the bookshop where we bought our travel guide, the hairdresser and the barista at our favourite coffee shop about the constant threat of robbery on Barcelona’s streets. (The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker kept noticeably quiet on the issue.)

Everybody knew someone who knew someone who had seen a guy getting pickpocketed in Barcelona and thought we should know. When I asked my mom to elaborate, she told me about the time when she had been on the Metro with a friend who had found herself wedged into a doorway by two seemingly polite men, while a group of small children rifled through her handbag, taking her passport, mobile phone and purse. Pressed further about this story, my mom admitted that it had actually taken place in Rome — but, she said, these things could happen anywhere.

7 Ways to Keep Your Stuff Safe When You Fly

Forewarned is forearmed, and, after hearing countless warnings against leaving valuables in the zippy pockets on the back of our rucksacks, we arrived in Barcelona a little bit tired and very hungry. Our hotel was opposite a Metro station, so we decided to brave the trains in order to get there and drop off our things as quickly as we could. We descended to the turnstiles only to find that the tickets we had just bought were no good. We fought through the crowds to get back to the machines in the corridor, which did not offer English instructions.

We jabbed away at the touch screen for a while as the crowd thickened and swirled around us, trying not to admit to each other that we had no idea what we were doing. More and more people bumped into us. My girlfriend moved her rucksack so that it was on her front. It looked like one of those pregnancy simulating vests. We’d just arrived in the middle of a busy city, we only had the most tenuous grasp of the local language, we were hungry and our feet hurt.

And then a little man appeared and, after finding out through a burst of quick-fire Spanish that we didn’t understand quick-fire Spanish, asked us if we spoke English. We were that obvious. He had very greasy hair and had a short, blonde beard. His jacket was brown and frayed and, in his hand, he had an empty coffee cup with change in it. Uh oh.

The man smiled and pointed out an option on the screen that would take us back to the language page; this would make it easier for us to buy our tickets, he said without a hint of condescension. Then, he said, instead of buying day tickets or singles, we should buy a special ticket that he pointed out. We could use it in any zone in the city, it would be good for the three days that we were there, it was cheaper than a single-day ticket and it would get us to the airport without any trouble on our departure day. We could even get away with only buying one of them if we were sly enough about passing the ticket back over the turnstile to each other when we went through.

We bought the tickets (yes, two of them) and thanked the man for his help. He smiled and shuffled off into the crowd. As soon as he’d gone we both quickly patted down our pockets. Of course, everything was still there. The man was just being helpful and was not, as we had thought, trying to rob us. We felt dreadful because we’d wrongly made up our minds about someone who was only being kind, even though he could have quite easily ignored us.

I wanted to catch up to the man and say something nice, but there was no sign of him. He had gone. We snapped this photo of the stranger before he disappeared:

Barcelona



– written by Josh Thomas

Dilly Dally HouseHere’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 $165 per night. Dorinda, who gave the first correct answer, has won an IndependentTraveler.com neck pillow.

The room pictured was the Suite at Dilly Dally House in Kauai. This B&B is set among lush tropical plants, and guests are welcome to pick fruits like papayas, mangoes and pineapples from the property’s gardens. All of the rooms at Dilly Dally House have private lanais (the Hawaiian term for patio), and some offer sweeping views of the “Sleeping Giant,” also known as Nounou Mountain. Read more about visiting Hawaii in our Hawaii Travel Guide.

– 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 price of a night in tropical paradise? 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 accommodations without going over wins an IndependentTraveler.com travel neck pillow. Here’s the property:



Here are three hints to help you win:

-This suite has a living area with a futon and a bedroom with a king-size bed, and can accommodate up to four people.

-This suite offers a view of the “Sleeping Giant,” a land formation that takes its name from an old Hawaiian legend.

-Daily breakfast prepared with local ingredients is 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 Sunday night, December 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

busy winter highwaySanta Claus is coming to town — and so are nearly 92 million other travelers. Today, AAA released its annual holiday travel forecast, which predicts a very busy season this year. According to the report, about 91.9 million Americans will be traveling more than 50 miles from home — a 1.4 percent increase over last year’s numbers.

The good news? An active holiday travel season bodes well for the economy — and for the travel industry in particular. In a press release issued by the company, AAA Vice President Bill Sutherland said, “It’s a positive sign for the travel industry that so many Americans are planning to travel this holiday season, collectively contributing to the second-highest year-end holiday travel volume in the past ten years.” According to AAA, the holiday season spans from December 23 through January 2.

Now here’s the rather not-so-good news: if you’re hitting the road at the end of this month, you’ll be sharing planes, trains and roadways with 92 million fellow travelers. Stress levels will be high, and your chances of snagging an upgrade, a good parking space or a discounted plane ticket will be low.

But don’t panic just yet. You can find tips for avoiding crowds and surviving your end-of-year getaway in 10 Tips for Holiday Travel. Plus, learn what to do if you get bumped from a full flight in our Guide to Bumping and Overbooking.

Will you be one of the 92 million Americans in transit around the holidays this year? Take our poll!



– written by Caroline Costello

sick woman thermometerI’ll admit this up front: Traveling sick is ill-advised.

But when does sick become too sick to travel? I imagine that most of us have been confronted by this question at one point or another, and if you’re like me, you’ve made the wrong decision: Get on the flight, hop on the train, jump on the ship.

Last week, I ended a four-night cruise awash in worries. Kyle, my teenage nephew, had battled an ugly stomach virus a few days earlier and was back on his feet — and eating like a pig again. But 12 hours before we were slated to get off the ship, I came down with the Plague. My throat became so sore I could barely breathe, my ears were clogged and I was coughing up stuff that appeared to have flaked off the Blob. Fearful that my nephew’s stomach flu was about to rear its ugly head and unable to sleep because of the congestion, I sat up in my bed worrying that there’d be no escape from Port Canaveral, Florida, after daybreak.

Day broke, and I was still feeling lousy. But there was a cause for celebration: It appeared I’d dodged the stomach virus and all its attendant horrors. The two of us finished packing our bags (in silence because I’d lost my voice, though Kyle didn’t seem to mind), then lumbered off the ship and into the central Florida sunshine. I felt woozy as the shuttle bus departed the port, then fell asleep for the 40-minute drive to Orlando’s airport.

Exhausted, lightheaded and achy, I checked in for my flight and soon found another reason to celebrate: I could get on an earlier flight to Philly instead of waiting around the airport for five hours. By this time, Kyle was pretending he didn’t know me; I think he would have FedEx’d me home if he could have. The two of us bumped elbows in farewell (he didn’t want to catch my germs), and he headed toward his flight to Boston.

Traveling While Contagious

Filled with guilt and anxiety over whether I’d make it home in one piece, I entered the aircraft and took my seat. Was it really fair to share my cold (or whatever it was) with everyone else on the plane? How would I feel if someone coughing up God-knows-what sat next to me? Shouldn’t I be lying in bed somewhere with a priest by my side?

Then the cacophony started. Behind me, next to me, even up in business class, passengers were coughing and nose-blowing, almost in harmony. A woman rushed to the bathroom seconds after the pilot told us it was safe to get up and didn’t return for a long, long time.

I slept a bit, but the nonstop hacking was hard to ignore. I got off the plane two hours later feeling sicker than when I got on, and I wondered: Did anyone feel the least remorse about sharing their illness with me?



– written by John Deiner

Paris snow 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: There are lots of super holiday gifts one can bestow on globetrotters, from travel gift cards to pet suitcases. Still, we wish we could whip out our credit cards and reserve a flight to an exciting destination for a special person or two on our lists — but we can’t. Or, at least, we can’t without stealing our loved one’s passport and requesting vacation days from his or her boss. All in all, it’s a bit rash to buy a flight for someone without any word of warning.

That’s not the case any longer. Aer Lingus has waived the name and itinerary change fees for flights booked by tomorrow, December 14. Purchase a flight from Boston, Chicago or New York to select European destinations, and you’ll have the option to make one change to the name on the ticket as well one change to the ticketed travel dates through the end of January. Tickets are valid for travel from January 1 through March 31, 2012.

It’s a fabulous gift idea: Present Mom with a flight to Paris, and let her pick her own travel dates! This deal is perfect for the holidays, but it’s also an excellent option for travelers who want to plan a European winter getaway but aren’t ready to commit to a set itinerary just yet.

The Catch: As we said, you may only make one change to the ticketholder’s name and one change to the travel dates for the flight. Further changes will incur a $210 fee each way. Additionally, if you change your dates and end up with a more expensive ticket than the one you originally purchased, you’ll have to pay the difference in fares.

The Competition: We haven’t seen another deal quite like this. But the next best thing is a travel gift card. Don’t miss this roundup of our favorite travel gift card deals.

Find more money-saving offers in our Airfare Deals.

– written by Caroline Costello

When I was 5 years old, I sat on Santa’s lap at the mall and told him I wanted a pony for Christmas. I can’t recall his exact response — I think it was closer to “Ha ha ha” than “Ho ho ho” — but, needless to say, I didn’t wake up to find a pony under the tree that Christmas morning. It never stopped me from dreaming.

Fast forward a few decades. This holiday season, I find my imagination running wild yet again — but now it’s turned to thoughts of travel. I’ve scoured the Web for five ultra-lavish gifts that any traveler would love to receive. The prices may be outlandish — try not to think about how many trips you could take for the price of each of these! — but hey, a girl can dream.

delta air linesPlane Tickets for Globetrotters
What traveler hasn’t dreamed of chucking it all and embarking on an around-the-world trip? Now even Groupon wants you to go. The daily deal site is offering a Jet Set Adventure from Delta Air Lines, Air France, KLM and Alitalia, which includes two around-the-world plane tickets for either $10,000 (economy class) or $20,000 (business class) — plus taxes and fees, of course. Your trip includes anywhere from 3 to 10 stopovers in destinations around the world. The airlines will even throw in a steamer trunk and a couple of safari hats.

henk travelfriendThe Ultimate Carry-On
Designed by a Dutch businessman who wanted to come up with the world’s best suitcase, the HENK TravelFriend pleases with its high-quality materials, sturdy retractable wheels and “lockers” for small valuables. Unlike most suitcases, it opens on both sides for easier access to your goodies. It’s also fully customizable: would you like your case lined with calfskin, horsehair or carbon fiber? Fortunately, the suitcase is carry-on size; imagine your teeth-gnashing if the airlines lost a bag that costs — wait for it — more than $20,000.

penguins antarcticaA Trek Through the Harshest Landscape on Earth
Anyone lacking an adventurous spirit (or an extremely high tolerance for cold) need not apply for this amazing polar expedition. The 18-day trip with luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent includes 69 miles of cross-country skiing and trekking across the vast frozen landscape of Antarctica, ending at the geographic South Pole. Sound appealing? You can still book a trip for this January, as long as you’ve got $57,985 lying around.

hasselblad cameraSpoil Your Favorite Shutterbug
Bad pictures, begone! If you find yourself unsatisfied with the photos taken by your old point-and-shoot, give yourself an upgrade (times a million) by picking up the Hasselblad H4D-60 60-Megapixel Digital SLR Camera. The list of specs on this professional-grade camera is about a mile long, and so is its price tag: $41,995. As of this writing, there’s a single review of the camera on Amazon.com, from a user who sold his condo and his car to pay for the thing. He may be living in a box on the street now, but at least he’s got a great camera.

villa yin phuket thailandA Private Villa in Thailand
De-stress after the holidays with a week or two in your very own luxury villa in Thailand. On members-only private sale site Jetsetter.com, you can book a stay at the 7,965-square-foot Villa Yin in Phuket, which offers panoramic views of the Andaman Sea from all four bedrooms and from the private infinity pool. Daily maid service and free Wi-Fi are included in the rates, which start at $4,250 a night in early January — with a minimum 14-night stay. (That adds up to a total of $59,500, in case you don’t have a calculator handy.) The villa sleeps eight.

Can’t afford anything on this wish list? Check out the more reasonably priced options in our 10 Unexpected Holiday Travel Gifts.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

1869 O'Malley HouseHere’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 $250 per night. Roger Kinnaman, whose guess was right on the money, has won an IndependentTraveler.com neck pillow.

The property pictured was the Tessitore Suite at the 1869 O’Malley House in New Orleans. This historic mansion is within walking distance of the French Quarter, and is set just steps from New Orleans City Park. There are eight uniquely decorated suites in the B&B, all of which have private bathrooms. The Tessitore Suite features a queen-size bed, a writing desk, a flat-screen TV, a working fireplace and a ceiling fan. Read more about visiting the Big Easy in our New Orleans Travel Guide.

– 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 price of a night in a historic Southern 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 accommodations without going over wins an IndependentTraveler.com travel neck pillow. Here’s the property:



Here are three hints to help you win:

-This suite, which can accommodate up to three people, has a queen-size bed, a writing desk, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with a jetted tub.

-This historic property is located within the geographic region of the U.S. that was purchased from Napoleon in 1803.

-Daily hot breakfast is 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 Sunday night, December 11, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Monday.

– written by Caroline Costello