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old car beach puerto vallartaThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from Alexis Chontos, who wrote, “I guess I should have been more specific when I said that we were going hunting for shells.” Alexis has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug!

Runners-up that we also loved:

“My Beach House — It’s all that I could afford!” — Shelley

“Hi mom!! Everything is fine here and having a good time, but we won’t be driving back so don’t worry about that.” — richard pearson

“I told you we should have flown!” — colin cake

To see all of the submissions, click here.

The photo was submitted by reader Nancy James, who snapped it on a beach in Puerto Vallarta. Nancy has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel comfort kit.

Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

What’s going on in this photo? Come up with a clever caption for this zany travel pic and you could win an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

puerto vallarta beach old car


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, April 29, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal our favorite caption on Monday. Please be sure to abide by our community guidelines when commenting.

The photo above was submitted by reader Nancy James, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel comfort kit. Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

jardins secret hotelWe’ve seen some glorious hotel rooms with fine furniture, plenty of fluffy towels and a stunning view. These rooms, when you’re lucky enough to score one, inspire you to throw yourself on the bed, hugging the crisp, white duvet cover around you and wondering whether you’ll ever be willing to leave. Ever. Sigh.

Oh, and we’ve been in some dumps — you know, the places where you won’t sit on the bedspread or take a shower without flip-flops. You lie in bed, fully dressed, waiting for dawn so you can find different accommodations. (See Hotel Horror Stories.)

Believe it or not, there are some hardy travelers who don’t care that much. No bed bugs and a door that locks: that’s about all they require. Others demand a few more bells and whistles. So we wonder what makes a hotel room ideal. Recently on Twitter and Facebook, we asked: If you could design the perfect hotel room, what would it be like?

Get the Best Hotel Room

The perfect hotel room, it seems, requires something that has little to do with the actual room. “Must have: Amazing view!” tweets TravelWithAAA. Diana Bustamante agrees, writing on Facebook: “Comfy beds, squishy pillows, large tub, small fridge and windows overlooking some incredible sight.” Oh, and add a clawfoot tub to a “big sea view,” according to tripalong on Twitter.

Some designs include practical amenities. Lavida Rei wants ceiling fans. ITravelBritain must have a nightlight switch next to the bed and 120-volt outlets. A mini-fridge, microwave, location near transit, plus a clean bed and working bathroom satisfy bgrmosaic. However, to be perfect, bgrmosaic goes beyond the general and delves into specifics, requesting wood or tile floors, which may be a practical matter if you have allergies.

Several would-be hotel room designers are even more detailed. GoPlanetWare tweets that the perfect accommodations “overlook the water [and have a] glass ceiling, marble flooring, rotating bed, flat-screen TV, dining area, his/hers closets.” And Val_GiveThanks must have a king-size bed, Jacuzzi tub and a balcony with a view. Oh, and a butler.

“You Want What?: Bizarre Requests from Hotel Guests

Remember, we’re designing hotel rooms here, not cinemas or RV’s. Dawn Purtle writes on Facebook that her perfect hotel room would have recliners and a popcorn machine. Dragonflyvans tweets: “It’d have wheels so I put it right next to a river, canyon, cliff or vista.”

Two of our readers claim to have already found their version of perfection. For iTravelBritain it is Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa in Edinburgh. For DecanterTours, it is Jardins Secrets in Languedoc-Roussillon, France. For holidayisfrance, a family suite that sleeps five or six will do. For us: a great view, comfy bed and a clean bathroom. Throw in a ceiling fan and maybe some fresh popcorn — we’re golden.

What does your perfect hotel room have?

–written by Jodi Thompson

dining alone restaurantAnyone who’s traveled solo knows that it can be both rewarding and stressful. If you’re like me, you’ve probably discovered that dining sans companions can be one of the most awkward aspects of venturing out alone. (Let’s just say I was pretty discouraged when I ended up eating by myself during the first four nights of a six-night cruise last year.)

In a recent Independent Traveler poll, about 35 percent of voters said they either try not to dine alone or absolutely avoid it at all costs. Females who fall into either of those camps may want to check out Invite for a Bite, a Web site that allows women traveling alone to meet up for meals.

Founder Cressida Howard says on the company’s “about” page that she came up with the idea after listening to a radio broadcast during which several women lamented dining solo. Women who join the site can set up invitations asking for other female dining partners to join them for a bite … or a movie or whatever.

The site includes safety tips (after all, you’ll likely be meeting up with complete strangers), and according to the frequently asked questions section, it’s limited to females for safety reasons — and so as not to be confused with a dating site.

Would having dinner with someone you’ve never met be less uncomfortable than dining alone? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Want more tips on traveling by yourself? Check out our Tips for Going Solo.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

adirondack chairs porchEarlier this week, IndependentTraveler.com’s own Ed Hewitt highlighted the myriad benefits of membership in a hotel rewards program, such as free stays, room upgrades and other perks. (See Seven Smart Reasons to Join a Hotel Rewards Program to get the scoop.) But for many independent travelers, there’s one major drawback: Who wants to stay in bland chain hotels all the time?

If you’re the type of globetrotter who seeks out cozy B&B’s, stylish boutique hotels or unique local properties, you don’t have to forgo hotel rewards programs. We’ve unearthed three intriguing loyalty programs that go beyond the usual Starwoods and Hyatts.

Tablet Plus
TabletHotels.com is a portal for boutique and luxury hotels around the world, many of them independently owned. The site’s loyalty program, Tablet Plus, offers complimentary upgrades, advance access to private sales, and fun extras like free cocktails and cooking classes at hundreds of participating hotels. Membership costs $195 a year.

Do You Prefer Chains or Independent Hotels?

Golden Quill
An alliance of nearly 400 inns and B&B’s across North America, SelectRegistry.com offers a rewards program, called Golden Quill, that’s refreshingly simple: stay 12 nights, and get a reward certificate of $100 to be used toward your next stay at any Select Registry property. There’s no cost for the program, but you’ll need to accumulate your 12 nights within a two-year period to qualify for the $100 reward.

GHA Discovery
We’re cheating a little by including the Global Hotel Alliance in this list, since it’s a network of small luxury hotel chains (including Anantara, Omni and Pan Pacific) — but its rewards program is unlike most others in the world. The GHA Discovery program offers not free stays but unique local experiences, such as surfing lessons, spa treatments, after-hours access to museums or meet-and-greet sessions with local public figures. The more nights you stay, the more exclusive the experiences available to you. Membership, which is free, also includes more conventional loyalty perks such as free Wi-Fi, your choice of newspaper and room upgrades.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

horse st martinThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from Kay Bennett, who wrote, “Your cigars have made me a little horse.” Kay has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug!

Runners-up that we also loved:

“Horse says to the dog, I told you smoking would stunt your growth.” — Therese Lemay

“Buttercup looking for the nicotine fit before his race:)” — Martin

“I thought that cigar was a carrot.” — toni

To see all of the submissions, click here.

The photo was submitted by reader Ian Jonsen, who took it in Marigot, St. Martin. Ian has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel comfort kit.

Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

What’s going on in this photo? Come up with a clever caption for this zany travel pic and you could win an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

horse st martin


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, April 22, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal our favorite caption on Monday.

The photo above was submitted by reader Ian Jonsen, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel comfort kit. Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

child airplaneThe idea has been discussed for years by travelers who’ve spent one too many flights listening to wailing children or enduring the pitter patter of little feet slamming into their seatbacks — and now it’s going to become a reality. Malaysia Airlines will institute a child-free section on its flights between London and Kuala Lumpur, starting in July.

CNN reports that families with kids under 12 will automatically be assigned to the family-friendly lower deck of economy class aboard the airline’s A380 planes, while the 70-seat upper deck will remain kid-free (unless there are so many families that the lower deck fills up). The lower deck seats 350 passengers.

This move follows the airline’s decision last year to bar infants from first class on its 747-400 routes.

The Most Annoying Airplane Behavior

Many parents will likely be upset by Malaysia Airlines’ policies, but I actually think the carrier has found a solid compromise. The double-decker planes allow families to have access to the larger main cabin, while those of us who’d rather travel with grown-ups only have a little nook of our own — a quiet car, if you will. (Of course, there’s no guarantee that adults on a flight will actually behave like grown-ups!)

Whether Malaysia Airlines will be copied by other carriers remains to be seen. Personally, I doubt that the idea will gain mainstream acceptance. As an Air Transport Association spokesman explains in The Hue and Cry Over Babies Onboard, “This is an industry that’s working very hard to return to profitability. No way is any airline going to discourage someone from taking one flight over another. I just can’t see that happening.”



– written by Sarah Schlichter

vacation rental beach sandalsHow many of you rely on user-generated reviews to help pick a hotel or vacation rental? Virtual show of hands. That’s what we thought. And if a vacation rental owner’s property listing had bathroom pics showing only the porcelain spaces not dripping black mold, you might be inclined to tell the world, ex post tripso.

Not so fast.

According to a recent piece by veteran consumer travel writer Chris Elliott, “non-disparagement” clauses are seeping into vacation rental contracts as owners and management companies attempt to vigorously defend their reputations in a user-generated landscape. One scathing review, real or fake, can gut a small business, they say. Consumers aren’t the only ones who need protection.

Blow off the fine print and you could face a heavy fine, which a couple did recently for posting a negative review of an Arizona vacation rental on VRBO.com. Their rental contract said they needed consent from the owner or the owner’s rep, Progressive Management Concepts, to do so. Their credit card was hit with a punitive $500 fine. (The couple eventually agreed to take down the review and got their $500 back, plus $200 more.)

Finding a Vacation Rental

TJ Mahony, CEO and co-founder of IndependentTraveler.com sister site FlipKey, a vacation rental site, told us he hadn’t heard of this practice yet — but said, “In principle, we would never encourage nor support this.

“The overwhelmingly majority of vacation rental experiences are positive. Moreover, FlipKey and TripAdvisor offer extensive reputation management tools to help homeowners effectively manage their online reputation and address unreasonable claims.”

Mahony said he would personally never sign a contract including such a clause.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

We agree. While there’s little doubt that fake, or at least disingenuous, reviews are a problem, forced confidentiality is not the solution. Online reviews are not some “vast buzzing, blooming confusion,” as travel icon Arthur Frommer recently told the Wall Street Journal. They’re one of many essential tools — which include, yes, guidebooks — used by the savvy traveler.

So, amid the fine print, there’s may be another question to ask when interviewing a vacation rental owner: Are you okay with consumer reviews?

– written by Dan Askin

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns FlipKey.

hotel bed pillowsYou never know what you’re going to get when you book a bed and breakfast. I’ve had delightful experiences, where I stayed up late with the owners, drinking wine and swapping stories. And I’ve had bizarre visits, such as the time when I watched a cat walk across a table full of food — and the owner did nothing.

So I was a little apprehensive when my husband Don told me that he’d booked a night in a bed and breakfast during a trip we took last year to see his family in Iowa. To make matters weirder, he chose the Heavenly Habitat in Madison County, a church that the owners renovated into a inn. The potential for awkwardness seemed very high.

It turned out that our night at the Heavenly Habitat was one of the highlights of our four-day trip. That’s because the owner, Steve, did a few things right that all B&B owners should keep in mind:

Privacy: No one likes an in-your-face host. We arrived on a rainy Thursday night, carrying a pizza and beer that we had picked up at the local Casey’s (an Iowan equivalent to 7-11). We were tired, hungry and in no mood for chatter. Steve welcomed us into our wing of the church, showed us where the silverware and napkins were and then left us alone, without feeling the need to chitchat. Bliss.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

Appropriate decor: The last time we visited Don’s family in Iowa, we stayed at a B&B where the entire room — no lie — was covered in flowers. We’re talking flowers on the wallpaper, flowers on the bedspread, flowers on the carpet. It looked like a greenhouse had exploded.

The Heavenly Habitat had a few themes going on in its decor: Madison County bridges in the living room; roosters in the kitchen; churchy objects, such as a pew, here and there. But it never felt over the top or obnoxious.

Space to spread out: When Steve and his wife bought the church, they took one half — the chapel — as their own to live in. The entire second half, which included the fellowship hall, is available for guests. So we had our own kitchen, living room and bedroom. The inn only has two rooms, and we were the only ones there that night. It felt nice to have some space, without feeling like we were intruding in someone’s home.

A glorious breakfast: It doesn’t have to be fancy. But one of the pleasures of staying at a bed and breakfast is having someone else make your eggs — and when it’s done right, you can stay full through mid-afternoon.

An upbeat, informative host: We had not planned on going to Winterset’s John Wayne birthplace, but Steve talked us into it — and we found it a worthwhile stop. He also made sure that we had maps to find the Madison County bridges. We appreciated Steve’s upbeat attitude as well — a stark contrast to B&B managers we met in Sedona once who told us how much they hated running an inn.

33 Secrets for Sleeping Better at a Hotel

Now, the Heavenly Habitat wasn’t perfect. There wasn’t any Wi-Fi, for example (although the owner said they’d be adding it in the future). But I felt like we got a very good deal, as our room was only $80 (Monday through Thursdays; the price goes up to $100 on the weekends), especially when I saw our next hotel, the rather grim Days Inn in Atlantic, Iowa.

What do you think? What makes a perfect B&B?

– written by Chris Gray Faust