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

dog suitcase


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Monday night, September 3, 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

There are certainly reasons to avoid leaf peeping in its usual incarnation. You could easily overdose on quaintness while choosing the plumpest pumpkin or dearest antique. If you shy away from scores of children wielding candied apples while running wild through cornstalk mazes, you may want to skip the season altogether. Understood.

But you’d be missing some glorious sights, whether you go simply for the visual treat or allow the colors to enhance a trip with an entirely non-related agenda. Don’t allow the scarecrows to chase you away. Indulge. Here are some places we wouldn’t mind visiting during the autumn months. We may even enjoy a crisp apple or some pumpkin ice cream along the way.

Take the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway up the Hotake Mountains, near Nagano, Japan. From both the double-decker gondolas and the observation deck, you’ll enjoy a glorious view.

hotake japan



Explore the monasteries of Echmiadzin, Armenia. Perhaps sight a few khachkars, outdoor stone slabs carved with detailed motifs, which can still be found although many have been destroyed.

khachkars armenia



Drive the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway through the beautiful Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. This National Scenic Byway, which runs through Virginia and North Carolina, is bordered with deciduous trees, such as oak, dogwood, hickory, buckeye and ash.

blue ridge parkway



Skip Paris in the springtime and visit in autumn. The fall foliage in Jardin du Luxembourg easily rivals its colorful May blooms.

jardin du luxembourg paris



For more lovely landscapes in autumn, don’t miss the Butchart Gardens, just north of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. You’ll find a serenity impossible to locate in a corn maze.

butchart gardens




Eight Unique Ways to Experience Fall


Where will you take in the fall foliage this year?

– written by Jodi Thompson

florida hurricane ireneBlame Isaac for scattering Caribbean-based cruise ships, upending tightly coordinated shipping schedules, and deluging popular cities and islands. But apparently, none of this should come as a surprise.

According to a recent blog on Weather.com, over the past 11 years, those ornery “I” storms have been among the most destructive of the Atlantic hurricanes. Seven “I” names have been retired by the World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations agency with the curious task of humanizing the potentially catastrophic (among myriad mandates). Storm names are retired by the WMO when the specter of seeing another Hurricane Katrina is deemed too painful.

Foul Weather Travel Tips

The “I” storm phenomenon can partly be explained by the position of the letter in the alphabet within the context of Atlantic Hurricane Season, which runs from June 1 to November 30. According to National Hurricane Center data, a typical Atlantic season is composed of some 11 storms, (±4), with the seasonal peak generally coming around September 10. All seven retire-I’s spawned between August and early October. Weather conditions during this period — low wind shear, higher sea temperatures — are the inspiration for more and bigger storms, right when the “I’s” are statistically set to materialize.

Still, during that 11-year stretch, zero “H’s,” two “J’s” and that very deadly “K” have been put to pasture. Compare that to Irene (August 2011), Igor (September 2010), Ike (September 2008), Ivan (September 2004), Isabel (September 2003), Isadore (September 2002) and Iris (October 2001). Some would call it an I-jinx.

Four Common Travel Disasters and How to Prevent Them

Fortunately, Isaac didn’t have nearly the gusto of 2011’s Irene, which diverted dozens of cruise ships in the Northeast, Eastern Caribbean, Bermuda and Bahamas, and caused billions in damage and some 40 deaths. No one will soon forget Ike either, which holds the dubious honor of being the United States’ second-most expensive tropical storm, causing nearly $29.5 billion in damage (source: weather.com).

Whatever Isaac’s legacy, here’s hoping that he won’t be retiring any time soon.

– written by Dan Askin and Dori Saltzman

Martin Luther King, Jr. In honor of today’s 49th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, we’re exploring five places you can visit where the man himself once slept, walked, spoke, protested and generally inspired a nation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site (Georgia)
This historic national landmark is actually a conglomerate of several sites in Atlanta, Georgia, that include Dr. King’s boyhood home on Auburn Avenue as well as Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both he and his father were pastors. Don’t miss the visitor center’s museum that chronicles the American Civil Rights Movement. Another interesting must-see is Fire Station No. 6, which houses an exhibit on desegregation within the Atlanta Fire Department.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (Alabama)
A historic building in and of itself – having been founded in 1877 in a slave trader’s pen – this small Baptist church was forever entered into the annals of history by its 20th pastor, Dr. King, who served from 1954 to 1960. Most famously, the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the 1950’s was directed by Dr. King from his church office. In 1980, a beautiful mural was painted outside the church depicting scenes from Dr. King’s journey from Montgomery to Memphis. Tours of the church can be privately arranged.

Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail (Alabama)
This 54-mile trail commemorates the route of the 1965 Voting Rights March beginning at the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma. It includes the Edmond Pettus Bridge where on March 7, 1965 marchers were tear-gassed and beaten by police offers. The march, led by Dr. King, began again a few weeks later with protesters joining from around the country. The five-day trek ended at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery with several notable speeches, including one by Dr. King. The entire route is a component of the National Trails System and is administered by the National Park Service. Several interpretive centers are placed along the trail.

Slideshow: The Eight Best U.S. Road Trips

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Alabama)
A large museum and research center, the Civil Rights Institute is located in Birmingham’s Civil Rights District, which is home to the 16th Street Baptist Church. Dr. King was a frequent speaker at the church, which was also the site of the horrific fire bombing that killed four young girls. The Institute’s permanent exhibit is a self-directed walk through Birmingham’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement.

National Civil Rights Museum (Tennessee)
Located in Memphis, Tennessee, the National Civil Rights Museum is a complex of museums built around the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot and killed on April 4, 1968. In addition to a museum tracing the Civil Rights Movement, visitors can see the site where James Earl Ray first confessed to the shooting, as well as the rooming house where the murder weapon was found.

Bonus Site: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (Washington D.C.)
While Dr. King may never have visited the actual site of the memorial created in his honor, Washington D.C. is where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 in front of some 250,000 listeners. The official address of the monument, 1964 Independence Avenue S.W., commemorates the year that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.

Visit the Southeast Message Board

– written by Dori Saltzman

dog suitcaseThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from Nancy James, who wrote, “Actually, I WOULD prefer the pat-down. Start with a pat on the head, please.” Nancy has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

Runners-up that we also loved:

“What do you mean, I have to stay home to watch the house?” — lee

“Can I come? Can I come?” — Christiane Austin

“Hey, I can be a bad dog,
But I love you like crazy,
And here’s my bag packed,
So go for a ride, maybe?” — Sarah

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 cute travel pic and you could win an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

man on beach


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, August 26, 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

hotel milano terrace san juanWe often talk about travel bucket lists filled with big-budget trips that require a lot of planning. They’re stressful, at times, because so much goes into them and we have such big expectations. There’s a reason these trips often stay on the bucket list for many years; it’s much easier to just escape, spur of the moment. So we keep a few trips in our back pocket. Not mega-bucket-list trips, but cheap and easy trips we could take without much planning and with minimal damage to our savings.

San Juan has been calling me lately. For about $520 total, my husband and I could fly there on AirTran. I’d stay at the Hotel Milano, only 15 minutes from the airport, but in the middle of the old city. The family-owned property has free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel, a necessity for me. I can imagine having coffee on the rooftop terrace.

Since this isn’t a bucket list destination for me, I wouldn’t feel any pressure to do anything except wander, eat empanadillas and drink rum. Since it is hurricane season in the Caribbean, I could most likely continue to do at least two of my intended activities should the weather turn foul.

A completely different, yet equally satisfying back-pocket trip, for me, would be Acadia National Park in Maine. I want to challenge myself on the Dorr Mountain trail, a series of granite steps up the mountain, much of it through the forest. (Can you imagine the autumn foliage?)

I’d fortify my hike with popovers on the lawn at Jordon Pond House. I’d stay at the Moseley Cottage Inn, preferably in a room with a working fireplace. Sure, the rate is a bit high for my strict budget, $205 per night, but my husband and I would drive to Maine, saving on airfare.

The qualifications for a back-pocket trip are simple: cheap, quick and no stress. Not much of an itinerary is required. Need inspiration? Check out our travel deals.

We’re all about extensive travel, with plenty of planning and packing. But sometimes we just have to throw a few things in a bag and go. That’s why we need a couple of trips in our back pocket. Which destinations are in yours?

– written by Jodi Thompson

havana cubaAt the beginning of this year, IndependentTraveler.com named Cuba one of its 9 Destinations to Visit in 2012, thanks to the relaxation of travel restrictions for Americans wanting to visit the long-forbidden nation. Under the loosened rules, many tour operators and cultural institutions began offering educational trips to Cuba that any traveler could book (prior access had largely been restricted to Americans visiting family in Cuba or traveling for religious purposes).

But these trips appear to be in peril once again. According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of the U.S. Treasury, has been extremely slow to renew licenses for travel organizations who want to offer educational Cuba tours — putting future trips in jeopardy.

InsightCuba.com, for example, has “pending OFAC license renewal” at the top of its list of tour offerings; the Free Press notes that the company has had to cancel its last two months of trips because its license expired in June. Other companies affected include National Geographic, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and more.

Cuba Trip Reviews by Real Travelers

It’s not clear if license renewals are not being promptly issued for political, bureaucratic or other reasons. In a statement provided to the Free Press, the U.S. Treasury had only this to say: “We have issued approximately 140 people-to-people licenses. We are doing our best to process both first-time applications and requests to renew existing licenses. We receive numerous such requests which are being handled in turn. It is our goal to respond in a timely matter.”

For now, if you see a company advertising Cuba tours, avoid disappointment by calling to ask when its OFAC license expires and whether the trip is guaranteed to run.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Prague One of my favorite ways to see and learn about a new place is with local tour guides. Nobody knows a place like locals do. They know not only the beaten path (about which they can often reveal little-known facts), but also those gems I’d never find on my own. But most important for me, they offer cultural insights into a community that only someone who lives, sleeps and works there could possibly know.

Today, I stumbled upon a new twist on the local tour guiding concept – guided tours from the homeless. This adds an entirely new layer onto what visitors can learn about a place, its people and culture. And the best part is, not only do visitors gain a new perspective on life in the destination they’re visiting, but they’re also supporting people who need help.

My introduction to the concept came care of the Prague Daily Monitor, which reported on a tourism project that employs eight homeless people as tour guides. According to the article, the guides offer “the narration of less known stories and visits to special interesting places,” in both Prague’s center as well as on the outskirts of the city.

Prague Travel Guide

The guides use their “long-lasting experience with living in the street” to choose the places they want to share with visitors. One book-loving guide, for example, takes tourists to lesser-known bookshops where second-hand books are available.

Other guides take visitors to the places homeless people and squatters inhabit.

Prague is not the first city to offer such tours. A quick Google search turned up similar tours in London, San Francisco and Amsterdam.

Some, like the London tours, visit tourist favorites, where guides point out the usual as well as offer insights into what it’s like to be homeless there. Others, like the San Francisco tour, take visitors to the “invisible” spots like homeless shelters, soup kitchens and workplace training programs.

Eight Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours

Would you take a tour led by a homeless person?

– written by Dori Saltzman

hiker binocularsThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from
Neil Shields, who wrote, “Of all the nerve … she’s wearing MY hat.” Neil has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

Runners-up that we also loved:

“Who is that chick in the bikini my husband is talking to???????!!” — Ginny

“I thought the nudist colony was in the other direction…” — Peter Ramsay

“Hey, that’s MY motorhome …!” — Karien

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