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fjordland national parkIn this week’s Friday Free-for-All, we want to hear about the movies or TV shows that have inspired you to travel. For me, two movies, more than any others, aroused a travel desire almost too strong to ignore.

If sweeping vistas of stunning landscapes are your thing, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy movies can’t fail to get your travel desire boiling. Seeing New Zealand displayed in all its natural magnificence on the big screen was too much for me to resist and within a few years of the first movie coming out I was in New Zealand visiting many of the places used as backdrops for the film.

On a smaller scale, the lesser-known “Enchanted April,” which I saw as a teenager, left me with a lingering need to rent a villa in Tuscan Italy. Anytime I feel the need to take a step back from the hectic pace of life as I know it, I imagine standing on a hill overlooking a Tuscan countryside with nothing to do but be still. I haven’t yet done it, but I know that someday I will.

Which movies or TV shows have featured scenery that has stuck with you to this day and moved you to visit the places depicted?

Turn Your Favorite Hobby into a Trip

— written by Dori Saltzman

photo album cameraLast month, I spent several hours on Shutterfly.com, creating a book of photos from my recent trip to Montreal. Back in the days when I had a film camera, I used to commemorate each journey with a traditional photo album — or, if I was really feeling ambitious, a scrapbook that included not only my own pictures but also ticket stubs, postcards, brochures and more.

Now that all my travel snapshots are digital, sites like Shutterfly (and Blurb, Lulu, Snapfish…) make it super-easy for travelers to upload their best pics and display them in a professionally printed book with customizable backgrounds and layouts. The books are fun to make, easy to share with family and friends, and ideal for leafing through when you’re feeling nostalgic about that amazing trip to Greece or the Galapagos.

19 Tips for Better Travel Photos

We asked our readers on Facebook about their favorite ways to commemorate a trip, and they shared a few creative ideas:

“I love to take pics of my favorite meals on holiday and along with all the pictures I take … download to one of those digital frames,” said Johanna C Kula.

“My husband makes a collage of pics for me and has it printed out at Costco,” Brianne Sirota Kreitman told us. “It’s the best way to spend $6. We have several framed and I love them.”

“I get all the pics I take and put them on a DVD with music and special effects,” said Tanya Searcy.

A Magnetic Travel Hobby

Kenya Hubbard Shirley prefers to keep things old school, creating “a complete scrapbook with menus, tickets and tons of pictures.” Lavida Rei collects postcards, while Cabin Fever Travel creates screensavers.

And we’ll leave you with one that’s seasonally appropriate:

“I collect Christmas ornaments everywhere we go,” said Brenda Ward Bradford. “Lots of reminiscing as we decorate the tree each year!”

Picture-Perfect: Tips from a Travel Photographer

What’s your favorite way to memorialize a trip?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

cockpit airplane pilotsWould you board a plane with no pilot? Sounds like a crazy idea — but according to an article from the Economist, it’s something that could become the future of air travel.

At some point within the next few weeks, a pilotless flight is slated to be tested during a trip from England to Scotland, meaning that the pilot operating the plane will be doing so from the ground in a control room. (There will also be a pilot in the cockpit, just in case anything goes wrong.)

The article notes that the U.S. Congress has shown interest in the technology, asking aviation regulators to find a way to incorporate unmanned aircraft into America’s air traffic control system as soon as the year 2015. The technology would likely be used on smaller aircraft carrying out functions such as border patrols or police surveillance.

For commercial aircraft carrying large numbers of passengers, it’s unlikely that onboard pilots would be eliminated altogether; instead, opines the Economist, flights might have just one pilot instead of a crew of two or three. (Our two cents: If any airline might try cutting pilots, it would be ultra-discounter Ryanair, whose CEO questions the importance of seatbelts in the air.)

How Flying Coach Could Save Your Life

Most of today’s planes are technologically advanced enough to take off, fly and land at a specified destination automatically — much like drone aircraft currently used by the military.

Overall, there still seem to be a lot of unanswered questions: How safe is an unmanned plane? Could this lead to job losses among pilots? Will pilots be able to concentrate better while controlling aircraft from the ground, or will it make them less accountable for safe flying if their lives aren’t at stake like those of the passengers onboard? And how might it affect consumer airfare prices?

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Would you feel safe flying on a pilotless plane? Be sure to leave your comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

woman pillowsFrom advanced technology that alerts guests making a racket in the hallways to keep it down, to human monitors knocking on doors when the snoring gets too loud, two hotel chains in the U.K. are cracking down on noise.

Premier Inn is installing “ssshhh-o-meters” in 620 hotel locations, the Daily Mail reports, that will be triggered when a certain noise decibel level is exceeded. When triggered, the meters, installed in hotel corridors, will flash as a reminder to guests to lower their voices.

When the Hotel Guest Next Door Won’t Shut Up

Last year, Crowne Plaza began trialing a more low-tech way of ensuring guests have a quiet stay. According to Reuters, the chain launched “snore patrols” in six hotel locations in England, whose sole purpose is to wake up noisy sleepers in designated quiet zones.

According to the Reuters article, the job of the snore patrols is to listen for “offensive noises,” then knock on the door of offending guests. If a guest repeatedly snores too loudly, the hotel may ask him or her to move to a room outside of the quiet zone.

33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

The patrols can be found in hotels in London, Leeds and Manchester.

What do you think of the two systems? Do you think flashing hall lights will keep late night revelers quiet? And should snore patrols be picking on people who probably can’t help how loud they snore?

— written by Dori Saltzman

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

Today’s shot is of flamingos in Lake Nakuru, Kenya.

northern lights aurora borealis alaska tent camping

Planning an African Safari

Do you have an inspirational photo you want to share with our readers? E-mail it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Traveling in a Developing Country: 11 Dos and Don’ts

— written by Sarah Schlichter

new york city taxiI doubt there’s anyone who’d disagree that travel would be more enjoyable if it were cheaper. Regardless of how large your budget may be, it’s never fun to incur all the tiny expenses that come with jaunting to and fro.

Since Thanksgiving is the busiest travel period, we’re excited about this: A new taxi-sharing service called Shairporter has rolled out in New York City, allowing travelers to coordinate rides to and from local airports with others who are going to the same places. (The site plans to expand to other cities in the future.)

Users can either search for rides that match their needs or post rides — complete with start and stop destinations and approximate cab fares — to get matched with others who are going the same way. Then, they meet up and share expenses. Not only is it more environmentally friendly to share a cab than to take one alone, but it’s also more economical. Membership is free.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

Sound sketchy? Users sign up through Facebook in order to help keep the community safe while maintaining privacy, and they can go back to review fellow travelers after sharing rides so others will know about their experiences.

If you’re interested, now’s the time to try it out. All cab rides on Wednesday, November 21, will be paid for by Shairporter for anyone who signs up on the site in advance.

Would you share a ride? Leave your comments below.

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

Today’s shot of the aurora borealis was snapped in Alaska.

northern lights aurora borealis alaska tent camping

Planning a Trip to Alaska

Do you have an inspirational photo you want to share with our readers? E-mail it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Winter Vacations Without the Skis

— written by Sarah Schlichter

oops buttonIn this week’s Friday Free-for-All, we want to hear about the most cringe-inducing moment you’ve had in your travels. Ever tripped in front of the whole business-class cabin when boarding a plane? Or attempted to say something innocuous in the local language but come out with something awkward or obscene instead? Or fallen asleep on a train, only to wake up somewhere in the rail yards with the conductor looking down at you as though you were an idiot? (Yes, that last one happened to yours truly — a real high point of my trip to Rome.)

Share your most embarrassing travel moment in the comments below! Whoever submits the funniest story by Tuesday, November 20, will win an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

Editor’s Note: We’ve now chosen a winner — congrats to Buzz Toll, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. You can see his winning entry in the comments below.

The Most Awkward Moments in Travel

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Last week, we published a slideshow of the World’s Ugliest Luggage, highlighting suitcases that challenge the boundaries of taste, color, common sense … or all of the above. In response, reader Dona Stewart sent in a few ugly luggage photos of her own:

ugly suitcases

ugly suitcases

Gotta love that 70’s powder blue!

But it turns out that these less-than-stylish suitcases are being used for a higher purpose. Said Stewart, “I collected all of those suitcases (priced under $5 each, most $1) for my favorite small dog rescue. They made dog beds out of them, truly an up-cycle project. They sell on Etsy.com for $50 – $150 apiece.

“The idea to use the castoffs as a pet bed came from observing one’s pet jump into a suitcase opened for packing, often with a sad look,” Stewart continued. “My little Yorkie, Lana, jumped right into her suitcase bed the moment I placed it on the floor. Her ‘bed’ serves a dual purpose; when she is ready to go stay with her pet sitter while we travel, I use it to pack her ‘stuff.'”

dog suitcase yorkie

All together now: “Aww!” We give this idea two paws up for turning travel trash into treasure.

Traveling with Pets

The Ultimate Travel Packing Guide

— written by Sarah Schlichter

guiltIt’s an argument that can be all too familiar this time of year: Where should you spend the holidays? Whether your husband’s parents want you to trek cross country to be with them for Thanksgiving or you’d rather skip Christmas with the grandkids and take a Caribbean cruise instead, holiday travel decisions can be fraught with anxiety — and a side helping of guilt.

Christopher, who didn’t want his last name used for fear of upsetting his in laws, says that he and his wife have been dealing with onerous holiday expectations for their entire 19-year marriage. “It’s burned any joy of the holiday season right out of me,” he says.

Although the couple has tried to come up with a compromise — one year they’d pony up for expensive cross-country flights, the next year they’d stay home and celebrate alone — her family isn’t buying it, he says. And forget about taking a vacation with just the two of them during the holiday season. One year when they tried to make excuses, he says, the family decided, without asking, to come to their house instead.

“We have not been able to get to a point with her family where we have been able to break away to do stuff on our own,” he says. “Their point of view around Christmas is that they are going to steamroll you. You either hop on or you get crushed.”

Away from Home for the Holidays

Sometimes the guilt doesn’t come from your family; it’s self-inflicted. This year, I was going to go on a Christmas markets cruise through Europe with my husband over the holidays. When I told my parents about the plan, their silence spoke more than recriminations. I ended up moving the cruise to earlier in December — and inviting my dad.

Emily Harley-Reid threw off her own parental guilt one Thanksgiving and went to Machu Picchu, leaving her husband and son behind. “They LOVED having a guys’ weekend,” she said. (She did bring her mother on the adventure.)

Harley-Reid says that she has tried to get friends to break their own shackles and go in on a T-day mountain or beach rental. So far, she’s had no takers. “I just want to spend a few days bonding and relaxing with dear friends and immediate family instead of driving 1,100 miles in two days, often through snow and ice,” she says. “Everyone turns down the idea because of the massive guilt trips.”

What Not to Do When Traveling Over the Holidays

Has guilt ever influenced your holiday travel plans?

— written by Chris Gray Faust