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big brother is watching youAnyone who’s ever flown to America from a foreign country knows that U.S. customs people don’t have much of a sense of humor about their jobs. (That bomb joke you’re considering? Trust us, it sounds funnier in your head.) But recently, two British tourists discovered that even jokes you post on your Twitter account can and will be used against you when trying to enter the U.S.

According to the U.K.’s Daily Mail, Leigh Van Bryan, a 26-year-old Irish national living in England, and his British companion, 24-year-old Emily Bunting, came to Los Angeles for a vacation but were detained because of a couple of tweets he’d made prior to his trip. “Free this week for a quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?” read a post to a friend on @LeighBryan’s Twitter account on January 16. On January 3, he tweeted, “3 weeks today, we’re totally in LA pissing people off on Hollywood Blvd and diggin’ Marilyn Monroe up!”

When they were questioned at immigration, Van Bryan and Bunting explained that “destroy” was British slang for “party” and that the Marilyn Monroe reference was a quote from the American TV show “Family Guy.” But the Department of Homeland Security wasn’t convinced. After being questioned and searched for shovels, the two travelers were put in holding cells overnight and then sent back home on a plane the next morning.

A few months ago, we learned to be careful what you say on Facebook because your friends just might come by to rob your house while you’re on vacation. The idea that the government is watching our tweets is even worse. Too late, Van Bryan has learned his lesson: his tweets are now viewable only by approved followers.

What’s your take — did Van Bryan and Bunting deserve to be sent home for their ill-advised tweets, or did the U.S. government overreact?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

kapital inn bed and breakfast budapestHere’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 125 euros per night. Nancy, who gave the first correct answer, has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

The room pictured was one of two deluxe rooms at Kapital Inn Boutique B&B on the Pest side of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary. The four-room boutique inn is on the penthouse floor of a 19th-century building, in the heart of the city next to Andrassy Avenue, in Budapest’s District VI. Daily breakfast is included in the rates, with a fully stocked complimentary snack stash for post-sightseeing noshing.

To check rates and read about other properties in Hungary’s capital city, see our favorite Budapest Hotels.

– written by Jodi Thompson

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 European capital on the Danube? 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 — in the hotel’s local currency — without going over wins an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Here’s the property:



Here are three hints to help you win:

-The room offers a queen-size bed, en-suite bathroom, complimentary minibar and flat-screen TV with 75 channels.

-The rate includes complimentary breakfast on the hotel’s 600-square-foot terrace, or indoors in inclement weather.

-The property is located within walking distance of a stop on the oldest metro in Continental Europe.

We’re looking for the maximum nightly price based on double occupancy as listed on the property’s Web site for high season, excluding holidays, coupon codes or package rates. Enter your answer by Sunday night, January 29, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Monday.

– written by Jodi Thompson

Need a smile? Check out this video from Finnair, featuring an in-cabin musical celebration of India’s Republic Day (which is today, January 26):



We spend plenty of time writing about the ills of the air travel industry, but we love drawing attention to moments like these when the airlines really do get it right. For more, see 3 Flight Attendants Who’ve Elevated Air Travel and Richard Simmons’ flight safety video.

–written by Sarah Schlichter

globeThis weekend, I’ll be in the company of Arthur Frommer, Rick Steves, Lisa Ling and thousands of other avid travelers. I’ll be checking out music and dance performances from around the world, and learning how to cook exotic dishes like Taiwanese popcorn chicken. And I’ll have the chance to win a vacation to Belize or India or even beyond.

In short, I’ll be at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show — and you could be too.

Los Angeles Without a Car

What exactly is a travel show? It’s not a TV program on the Travel Channel. No, it’s a big, colorful expo featuring exhibitors from travel companies and destinations around the world. It usually includes vacation giveaways, expert panels and talks, tons of information and inspiration, and — of course — plenty of fun freebies.

The Los Angeles Times Travel Show has all of that and more, and it’s coming up this weekend. But if you can’t make it to the City of Angels, there’s probably a travel show coming to a city near you. Below is a sampling of upcoming events around the U.S. and Canada.

Chicago: Travel & Adventure Show (January 28 – 29)

Boston: Boston Globe Travel Show (February 10 – 12)

Seattle: Golf and Travel Show (February 10 -12)

San Francisco: Travel & Adventure Show (February 18 – 19)

Spokane: Golf and Travel Show (February 18 – 19)

New York: New York Times Travel Show (March 2 – 4)

Vancouver: Golf and Travel Show (March 3 – 4)

Washington D.C.: Travel & Adventure Show (March 17 – 18)

Miami: Miami Travel Show (May 4 – 6)

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, why not come on out to the show this weekend? Admission is just $10. Look for me at the Travel in Style Pavilion, where I’ll be speaking on a panel about travel and shopping. Hope to see you there!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Home of the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole is one of the best places on Planet Earth to see wildlife in winter. This is not to slight nearby Yellowstone National Park. It’s just that the “hole” that is Jackson Hole concentrates a lot of animals in a relatively small, convenient space. So on a recent day off from skiing, my wife and I tried to see how many furry critters we could spot in one day.

bighorn sheep


Because we were staying at Spring Creek Ranch, which overlooks the town of Jackson, we took a wildlife tour with Kurt Johnson, Spring Creek’s chief naturalist. Armed with a BS in wildlife biology, an MS in natural resources and a van full of optical gear, Johnson knows wildlife better than Batali knows pasta.

Before we’d even left the ranch Johnson spotted some long-eared mule deer, including a 400-pound buck. Mule deer, like many animals in cold habitats, grow larger than their cousins in more temperate areas. But there are exceptions to every rule: We also passed a northern shrike, a tiny, innocuous-looking songbird that impales its prey on thorns until they bleed to death. Tough neighborhood.

Winter Vacations Without the Skis

Our first stop was on the eastern edge of the flat, rectangular National Elk Refuge,
where about 7,000 elk spend the winter. You see extremely healthy specimens here: elk cows that weigh up to 500 pounds and bulls of almost 900 pounds. Just 100 feet from us, a bull with huge antlers picked a fight with another bull. For a minute or two they banged heads, popping rim shots we could hear over the howling wind. But then, with the females long past their September estrous period, the boys suddenly forgot why they were fighting, and resumed grazing side by side.

elk fighting national refuge


To the north of the elk stood a few bison, notwithstanding signs indicating that this is an elk refuge. Johnson lends his clients binoculars and a telescope so powerful that we could see vapor from the bisons’ breath. Farther to our right, on a bluff near the road, four bighorn sheep watched us warily. That 200- to 250-pound animals with NFL chests can scamper up these cliff faces is an unlikely adaptation, but that’s why it works.

In less than an hour we’d seen four large mammals on our wish list, plus trumpeter swans and adorable Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks. “Think we’ll see any carnivores?” I asked. Johnson said, “Maybe.” Good answer.

Cozy Winter Getaway Ideas

He drove us to the Gros Ventre River, where two moose waded in the frigid water. I’d watched moose wading here in summer, green water dripping from their fur, but now it had started to snow, and these moose had iceballs clinging to their coats.

Moose weigh as much as 1,800 pounds. A huge bull moose rested on a bank near us, blinking stoically as icy flakes pelted its eyes. It’s their overlapping upper lips that make moose look dim-witted, but watching one of these hump-backed creatures wait out a squall, you understand its ability to survive without mastering rocket science.

moose gros ventre river snow


Our return route led alongside the refuge again. Suddenly, Johnson pointed to a coyote on the field. Coyotes are elusive creatures: We hear them at night near our house in Pennsylvania, and we find their scat in the morning, but they never show themselves in daylight. This one paraded right past us, offering as good a look at Canis latrans as you’ll ever get outside a zoo. It was a big one, too. “Coyotes are so large here,” said Johnson, “visitors think they’re wolves.”

A local had told us about a pack of especially ambitious coyotes that had attacked an elk a few days earlier. This coyote, though, trotted toward an elk that was already dead. Just as it got there, a bald eagle swooped down to the carcass. When the food is this good, the most unlikely companions will do lunch.

Our 10 Favorite National Parks

– written by Ed Wetschler, executive editor of Tripatini

los angeles freewaysIs it possible to get around the City of Angels without wheels? This week, I’m going to find out.

It’ll be my first trip to Los Angeles, a sprawling city so dependent on driving that it inspired the 80’s band Missing Persons to sing, “Nobody walks in L.A.”

Well, this traveler will be walking. And taking the subway. And riding a few buses too.

It’s not that I object to renting a car, especially when it’s the only way to explore a destination. But I live in the ‘burbs, and I already drive everywhere when I’m at home. So when I travel, it’s nice to get out from behind the wheel.

To make my L.A. trip work without a car, I’ve had to plan carefully. First, I’ve chosen a couple of hotels within walking distance of subway stops (one downtown, the other in Hollywood). Second, I’ve crafted my itinerary to focus on attractions that are easily accessible either via public transit or on foot from where I’m staying, like a couple of star tours out of Hollywood (which is on the Metro’s red line).

Our Favorite Los Angeles Hotels

I did have to scrap a visit to the Getty Center on Sunday afternoon because the L.A. Metro trip planner told me it would take anywhere from 150 to 180 minutes to get there from downtown by bus. Oof. On to Plan B: a stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art on South Grand Avenue, which is within walking distance of my downtown hotel.

Sightseeing aside, my main reason for coming to town is to speak at the Los Angeles Times Travel Show this weekend. Admission is $10; I hope any IndependentTraveler.com readers in the area will come out and say hi!

Got advice for getting around L.A. without a car? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplane window womanEver excitedly clicked on a super-low airfare, only to watch, horrified, as taxes and fees bloated the total cost to two or three times the original price?

This all-too-common experience could be a thing of the past for U.S. fliers. Starting this week, the Department of Transportation is instituting new regulations requiring airlines to include all mandatory taxes and fees in their published airfares. They will also need to offer a list of any baggage fees that could apply to your itinerary.

The new regulations are part of a broader slate of air passenger protections, many of which already went into effect in August 2011 — such as required baggage fee compensation for lost luggage, tarmac delay penalties for international flights and higher reimbursement for travelers involuntarily bumped from an overbooked plane. (See How Will the DOT’s New Airline Passenger Rights Affect You? for a full run-down.)

Besides the airfare advertising rules, other new provisions kicking in this week include the right to cancel your booking or hold a reservation without payment for 24 hours, provided that you’re booking at least a week in advance of your departure date. Airlines will also have to “promptly notify passengers of flight delays over 30 minutes,” according to the DOT press release, and they won’t be allowed to raise the price of your ticket after you’ve purchased it.

The new rules won’t actually make your flight cost less, and they won’t find your lost luggage. But at least you’ll know the true cost of your trip, and you won’t have to pay baggage fees for baggage you never see again.

Do you think the new rules go far enough in protecting fliers?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

eden park bed and breakfast aucklandHere’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 NZ per night (about $203 US). Dale, who gave the first correct answer, has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

The room pictured was the Cream Room at Eden Park Bed and Breakfast in Auckland, New Zealand. The four-room Edwardian home is located in one of Auckland’s inner suburbs, with plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby on Dominion Road and in Mt. Eden Village. Daily breakfast is included in the rates, featuring a hot entree along with fruit, yogurt, muesli and juice.

To check rates and read about other properties in New Zealand’s largest city, see our favorite Auckland Hotels.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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 restored Edwardian villa? 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 mug. Here’s the property:



Here are three hints to help you win:

-The room offers a queen-size bed, a fireplace and an LCD flat-screen TV.

-The rate includes complimentary gourmet breakfast (but you’ll have to get up early — it’s only served between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m.).

-The property is located in a central suburb of the “City of Sails.”

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, January 22, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time to win. We’ll contact the winner and reveal the answer on Monday.

– written by Sarah Schlichter