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feecationDo you feel as though you are nickel and dimed — or more like $10′d and $25′d — to death when you travel? It seems that as you plan your trip budget, you have to allow for about one-third again of the costs in fees. Of course, many charges you can avoid. But wouldn’t it be nice to throw budgets to the wind and treat yourself to that $8 airline meal or $15 late hotel check-out?

With the new online subscription rebate service Feecation.com, you can. Here’s how it works: You pay a membership fee of $14.97 per month. Within 30 days of incurring a fee while traveling (consult the list of payable fees under the site’s terms of service), you send proof of payment via either e-mail (use your smartphone to take a picture of the receipt and e-mail it while still on vacation to streamline the process) or the U.S. Postal Service. Then, within three to six weeks, you should receive your refund.

Travel Budget Calculator

How much will that refund be? Feecation.com will cover $10 per instance of incremental airline fees up to $500 per year, and $10 for each hotel, car rental and Wi-Fi fee up to $250 per year in each category. Theoretically, you could be reimbursed $1,250 each year, which more than covers the cost of membership. To make the cost of membership worth the $179.64 a year, you should travel often enough to incur at least 18 charges and also be organized enough to actually send in your receipts.

Caveat emptor: Travelers should remember that while fees are annoying, information gathering is an even bigger money-maker than charging you to check a bag. Not only are you providing your contact and credit card information, but you’re also providing a lot of information about yourself via the receipts you send in for reimbursement. Be certain to read and understand all 3,000 words of the company’s privacy policy before you provide any personal information. It does state that you can opt out of the company’s information database, but that option isn’t comprehensive. Feecation.com offers a 30-day trial, but you still must provide all your information and cancel it before the 30 days is up.

Would you be willing to give Feecation.com a try?

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

– written by Jodi Thompson

amsterdam solo travel womanI recently returned from a marvelous trip to Amsterdam, where I toured museums, ogled tulips, sipped jenever, ate pickled herring and explored the city’s canals and historical monuments — by myself.

I was informed early on that I’d be on my own for the trip, which was my first to the Netherlands. To put it mildly, I was terrified. I’d heard horror stories about pickpockets and districts of the red-light variety, and I’ll do just about anything to avoid dining by myself. But, as someone who has an abysmal sense of direction, I was most worried about finding my own way through the city without the help of a travel companion.

Single Travel: Tips for Going Solo

Some people cringe at the idea of traveling alone, but overall, I was relieved to discover that in Amsterdam nearly everyone speaks English, maps are plentiful and the train system is easy to use. (I only got lost twice!)

The most important takeaway for me, however, was that I was able to do the trip at my own pace. In addition to spreading myself out in my non-shared hotel room, I went to sleep when I wanted, I woke up when I wanted, I walked everywhere, and I saw/toured/tasted more than 20 of Amsterdam’s most popular landmarks/museums/foods and beverages in just four days. The freedom to go at such a break-neck pace is something I probably wouldn’t have had if I’d brought a friend.

Have you traveled alone? If not, would you consider it? If so, what are some of the fun experiences you’ve had solo? Leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

couple looking upThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from Jeri Jardine, who wrote, “Really, the GPS says to go THAT way??” Jeri has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug!

Runners-up that we also loved:

“Look at what that skywriter is writing — ‘Americans … go … home …’” — Louis Johnson on Facebook

“I [can't] believe that’s our hotel … 15 floors, no elevator … And their web page said ‘brand new.’ Damnit!” — Albita

“Whoa! Is that the inflation rate in Greece?” — Willis C. Self III on Facebook

To see all of the submissions, click here.

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.

couple looking up


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Monday night, May 28, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal our favorite caption on Tuesday. Please be sure to abide by our community guidelines when commenting.

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

casahopFour new Web sites claim to either save users bundles of money on hotels or match them to the right property based on a variety of personal parameters. IndependentTraveler.com fiddled around with the sites to see which ones are worth your time and which you shouldn’t bother with.

Show Me the Money
Less than a year old, BackBid.com gets hotels to bid on your business.

You start by already having a hotel reservation in a city. You enter your hotel reservation with dates of travel and competing hotels send you bids in an attempt to lure you away. Bids can be in the form of money-saving discounts or value-added services, like upgraded rooms, free breakfasts or parking fee waivers. If you like a bid, you can claim it; if you don’t, just keep your original reservation. Keep in mind, if you take a bidder up on their offer you’ll need to cancel your original reservation – beware of cancellation penalties!

Travelers without hotel reservations simply enter their travel plans to get bids from hotels in their city of choice.

BackBid claims to provide competitor rates that cover all U.S. cities, and plans to expand into other countries eventually.

IndependentTraveler.com’s Take: BackBid looks promising but we haven’t yet received a bid from a hotel. If bids are few and far between, the site won’t be around for too long. However, it costs only a few minutes of your time to give it a try. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get an offer you can’t refuse!

Want a Hotel Refund? Check This Web Site

Guestmob.com is another relatively new travel booking site, which claims to use algorithms to find deals up to 50 percent off Internet prices – what it calls the “magic price.” The catch: You don’t know which hotel you’re staying at until one to six days prior to check-in.

It’s not as dangerous as you might think since when you do a hotel search, the site returns one or more hotel collections composed of four to eight hotels, all of the same star ranking (as determined by Guestmob). If you decide to book a magic rate, you are guaranteed a stay in one of the hotels within the collection you chose. Additionally, if you find out what hotel you’re staying at and you don’t like it, you can cancel any reservation up to three days before your stay and get a full refund. Of course, if you don’t get your hotel notification before that three-day time period, you’re out of luck on the refund.

A quick search for Seattle for Aug. 9 to 18 returned two collections – one 3.5-star and one 4-star. The magic price for the 3.5-star collection was $160, while the magic price for the 4-star collection was $174. A comparison search on Hotwire for the four hotels in the 3.5-star collection came up with prices $17 to $85 higher.

The site currently only offers hotels in 20 U.S. cities.

IndependentTraveler.com’s Take: Because you’re not selecting a hotel completely blind, we see no reason not to give Guestmob a chance. The site does claim it offers deeper discounts to people who sign in via Facebook – thus sharing their travel plans with their Facebook friends. However, we didn’t test this, choosing to register via e-mail instead.

Get the Best Hotel Rate

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match
Still in its infancy, CasaHop.com is a social networking platform designed to aid people in finding homeswaps. Unlike other home exchange networks, CasaHop works through Facebook. So for the most part you’re networking with friends, family and friends of friends/family. The more public you’re willing to make your CasaHop profile, the broader the network you can exchange with.

Right now all you can do on the site is sign up via Facebook and enter information about your house, your neighborhood and your own vacation interests. The database and interactive community functions are scheduled to go live over the next few weeks.

In theory, by networking through Facebook, you’re avoiding swaps with “total” strangers. However, for those who are hesitant about sharing personal information on Facebook, CasaHop may not be right for you. In order for the site to work effectively you do need to enter a significant amount of personal information about your home and community, including photos.

IndependentTraveler.com’s Take: We’re leery of entering too much personal information, but for those who don’t mind, we say go for it.

A second match-making site, seriously in a beta testing phase, is simplehoney.com. This site claims to match users to accommodations based on their travel personality, assessed through a couple of short quizzes. But the site has so few hotels in its database that the matches seem a bit of a stretch right now.

IndependentTraveler.com’s Take: The jury’s out. According to the hotel matching page, they currently offer only hotel matches in California and Hawaii. But at the bottom of every search we’ve done, hotels in Vancouver and Nicaragua appear, which makes us think they’re throwing advertisers into the results. Another bad sign — while free at the moment, it says there will eventually be a one-time membership fee of $100. But for what? The two personality tests do offer a moment’s diversion, but for now we don’t think the site is worth your time.

What Not to Do at Your Hotel

— written by Dori Saltzman

corpus christi bayfront hotel impossibleThink you’re a picky hotel guest? “Hotel Impossible” host Anthony Melchiorri will give you a run for your money.

The new show, which airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. ET on the Travel Channel, follows roughly the same formula as popular restaurant renovation shows like Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares” on FOX and Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible”: likable host swoops into failing establishment and uncovers all of the challenges holding it back from success — then attempts to turn it all around during a one-hour episode with a blend of tough love and humor.

Indeed, the recent episode we caught, featuring the Hotel Corpus Christi Bayfront in Corpus Christi, Texas, offered its fair share of laughs. After arriving at the hotel to find an unmanned check-in desk, Melchiorri took matters into his own hands — namely, a tree in the atrium that, when shaken, showered dust onto an already grungy carpet (“the only thing staying at this hotel is dirt!”). Other unpleasant discoveries were just around the corner during Melchiorri’s full inspection, including a head-scratching toilet paper shortage, dead roaches, a pigeon corpse by the rooftop pool and thousands of uninvited guests of the bacterial kind.

How to Find a Clean Hotel Room

Melchiorri also provided guidance to the hotel staff (after he finally found them), from the overwhelmed owner to a haphazard housekeeper who did such a poor job cleaning a toilet that Melchiorri asked her where he was expected to put his butt. All good stuff — but when Don Jones, the gentleman in charge of hotel marketing, announced his job title to be Intergalactic Ninja Sultan of Revenue Development, we knew for sure we’d be back for more episodes. You can catch some of the highlights from this one here.

Amid the comedy and gross-outs, interesting facts about the hotel industry do emerge. Did you know, for example, that hotels that offer room service generally charge more per night, and that by adding room service a property can expect to increase overall revenue by 10 percent? We also learned that a typical hotel allows 30 minutes per room for housecleaning; that’s a lot of manpower for a 199-room hotel.

Curious about how the hotel is faring post-intervention, we surfed over to TripAdvisor. Alas, the property’s reviews are still mixed, with a submission from just this week citing fruit flies and stains. But there’s a bright spot: Mr. Jones no longer appears to be identifying himself as a Ninja Sultan in his responses to guests.

5 Things You Should Never Do at a Hotel

– written by Melissa Paloti

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

elephants safari binocularsHow would you like to go on a private safari in Kenya on someone else’s dime? Or take an all-expenses-paid trip to the London Olympics this summer? These are just a couple of the amazing journeys being given away right now by various travel sites on the Web. With a little luck (and by sharing your e-mail address, of course) you might be able to snatch up the trip of a lifetime. Below are four cool travel giveaways running right now. Good luck!

Win a Luxury Cruise
The Prize: First up is our sister site, Cruise Critic, which is giving away a seven-night luxury cruise for two aboard one of two small luxury ships. Where will you cruise? Choices include Tahiti and the Society Islands aboard Paul Gauguin, or the Caribbean, Latin America or Europe on Tere Moana.

How to Enter: Fill out the entry form on CruiseCritic.com by May 31. You may enter once per day.

Cruising for Independent Travelers

Win a Trip for Four to the London Olympics
The Prize: Hilton HHonors is giving away a trip for four to the Olympics in London this summer, including accommodations at the Waldorf Hilton, roundtrip airfare and tickets to select sporting events. And that’s just the grand prize. Two first-prize winners will each get the same package for two people instead of four, and 10 second-prize winners will each receive 50,000 Hilton HHonors points.

How to Enter: You must be a Hilton HHonors member to enter (you can join for free). If you stay at a Hilton hotel before the entry period ends, you’ll get an additional entry for each night. To throw your hat in the ring, fill out the entry form by May 31.

Our Favorite London Hotels

Win a Private Safari for Two in Kenya
The Prize: This luxury private safari for two from Micato Safaris is worth nearly $23,000. It includes airfare, a night in Nairobi, two nights in the Samburu National Reserve and three nights in the Masai Mara Game Reserve.

How to Enter: Fill out the entry form on the Conde Nast Traveler site by June 11.

Planning an African Safari

Win a Culinary Trip to Paris
The Prize: If you believe, as we do, that the best way to see Paris is to eat your way through it, then you’ll want to check out this giveaway. Bon Appetit magazine is offering a culinary dream trip to Paris that includes four nights at the Shangri-La Paris Hotel, dinner for two at La Bauhinia and l’Abeille, a dinner cruise for two on the Don Juan II yacht, a market tour with a Michelin-starred chef, airport transfers and vouchers for air travel. Ooh-la-la!

How to Enter: Fill out the entry form by May 31.

How to Save Money on Food When You Travel

– written by Sarah Schlichter

beach babyThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from Bob Divine, who wrote, “If you really need ID it’s in my diaper.” Bob has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug!

Runners-up that we also loved:

“Excuse me, I clearly said \in a Sippy Cup with a Bendy Straw\.” — Bill James

“But MOM, I said ‘JUST JUICE’ I PROMISE!” — Karen Cagle

“Who needs milk? I’m a chick magnet!” — vagabondginger

To see all of the submissions, click here.

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.

baby on beach


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, May 20, 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.

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

virgin atlantic recording studio london heathrowIt can be tough to escape the drudgery of an airport layover, especially for seasoned travelers who’ve seen and done nearly everything imaginable. Sure, you can hop a train or take a taxi to the city center for a little sightseeing (time permitting, of course). But honestly, sometimes that’s just too much effort after an eight-hour flight. Do we really have to resign ourselves to spending hours in a rock-hard chair listening to the same songs on our iPods over and over again?

Virgin Atlantic doesn’t think so. The airline, which is known for its less than traditional approach to flight service, recently installed an industry-standard recording studio in its Clubhouse lounge (open to Upper Class passengers and Flying Club Gold members) at London Heathrow. Musically inclined passengers can record, edit and mix a tune before e-mailing or uploading it to record companies, broadcasters, producers, etc., all while waiting for a flight.

Top 5 Airlines for In-Flight Entertainment

After hearing about this out-of-the-box service, we couldn’t help daydreaming about other swanky amenities that could make an hours-long layover more pleasurable than painful. As we noted in Best Airports for Layovers, there are already some pretty neat options out there.

At Hong Kong’s International Airport, for example, passengers can step outside to play a few rounds of golf at the USGA-approved nine-hole Sky City Nine Eagles Golf Course. Travelers at Singapore’s Changi International Airport can also soak up some vitamin D before boarding as they stroll the airport’s five themed botanical gardens, which are home to a variety of flora as well as more than 1,000 live butterflies. At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, travelers can brush up on Dutch culture at the Airport Library, which features about 1,250 books, including Dutch fiction that has been translated into 30 languages. And in Zurich, the airport rents bicycles, inline skates and Nordic walking poles so passengers can explore the surrounding areas while they wait.

What Not to Wear on a Plane

With airports like these setting a precedent for innovation, we can’t help but hope that one day they’ll all be the standard rather than the exception. And while they’re working on it, maybe they could think about featuring dine-in movie theaters, bowling alleys, cooking classes and or even roller coasters.

Which amenities would you add to our airport wish list?

– written by Shayne Rodriguez Thompson