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I may get pelted with geraniums for admitting this, but here goes: Claude Monet’s ultra-famous gardens in Giverny, while objectively artful, left me cold. It’s like the painter left his vision behind but took the soul of it with him to the grave. They’re just too … perfect.

I visited Giverny as a port of call on a recent Seine River cruise. It was clear that the Impressionist’s two gardens, which he created so he could paint his visions of paradise, are unspeakably lush and immaculately tended (the place has a team of full-time gardeners). And yes, as you amble through his water garden, wander over the iconic Japanese bridge and peer into the pond to see if the water lilies are flowering yet, you can almost imagine yourself in one of his paintings.


monet giverny garden

To me, though, there was something sterile about the place, despite the perfectly tended pathways and the thousands of visitors with whom I shared my wanderings, and in spite of the whizzing sound of cars passing by (one thing the glamorous photos don’t show you is that a two-lane highway separates the garden by the house from the water garden). The fluorescently illuminated gift shop, as big as a barn, was full of cheap crap-knacks, such as “Lady with a Parasol”-on-magnet or “Water-Lily Pond”-on-polyester-scarf, that are meant to appeal to the masses. Indeed, Monet’s garden, as a daytripper’s jaunt from Paris, draws a half million visitors per year.

If you’re in the area, the pilgrimage to Monet’s place is obligatory, but keep it short. A better way to spend a day in Giverny is to wander into the heart of its village. Grab a stool in the bar at the ancient Hotel Baudy, where the artists who followed Monet to Giverny bartered paintings for food (their work still hangs there). Check out the artists’ studio in the back garden that’s been preserved as it was a century ago. And feel free to wander through the garden that for Baudy’s owner is as much a labor of love as was Monet’s. It’s got lavender and geraniums, benches you can sit on, and forested alcoves for private musing. It may not have that pond full of water lilies. But it’s got soul in spades.

hotel baudy artists studio

Slideshow: Top 10 Undiscovered Destinations

— written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

world map travel travelerWhile I’m not sure I’d call myself a “lazy traveler,” I do like to keep things as simple as possible. After countless road trips and plane rides, I’ve developed a few tips and strategies that will make your next trip more comfortable. These tips work for short or long trips and do not require a degree in rocket science in order to apply them to your travel style.

1. Wear slip-on shoes. Whether you are working your way through airport security or headed out on a long road trip, slip-on shoes make life much more relaxing. At the airport you don’t have to be “that guy” blocking up the security line because he’s untying his shoes. Just make sure you have clean, hole-free socks — and ladies, if it’s summertime, we recommend a fresh pedicure.

Airport Security: Your Questions Answered

2. Books and e-readers are nice, but audio books are better. Carrying an iPod or mp3 player is much easier than lugging around a book or Kindle. On our last flight, my husband and I actually shared headphones, each using one earbud, in order to finish up a book we’d both been listening to in the car via my mp3 player. It was a riveting storyline and our two-hour flight was over in no time.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

3. Always pack a hat. Having a hat is essential to comfortable travel. It not only warms your head, but if necessary it can also be used to cool the neck by tucking hair up into it. Hats shield the eyes from outdoor glare, and can block the light if you’re trying to catch a few Z’s at an airport or on a bus. And if you haven’t washed your hair in a few days? A hat hides a multitude of sins.

Another Reason You Should Always Pack a Hat

4. Bring bills. This one may seem irrelevant in the age of ATM’s and credit cards, but I find it’s always nice to have a little traveling cash on hand in order to tip the cab driver or buy a sweet treat from a street vendor. You might even discover a cool little cash-only restaurant — yes, these establishments still exist, and the smaller the town, the more likely that you’ll stumble across one. Believe me, you don’t want to miss out on the world’s best eggs Benedict just because you didn’t have a little cash in your pocket.

The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas

5. Keep headache medicine and antacids readily available. No matter how laid-back you are about traveling, there’s bound to be something that causes a little headache or upset stomach along the way. Travel usually comes with a change in diet, which can be tough on the digestive system, and lack of sleep or dehydration can result in a headache. It’s better to be prepared than to have to track down a $10 aspirin in the airport or at a tourist trap.

Avoiding the Airplane Cold

— written by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer, a journalist and freelance writer from Northern Colorado. She is also the Mayor of HeidiTown.com, a blog about Colorado events and festivals.

Almost six months after the Great Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated much of coastal northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, I found myself on an express train bound for Fukushima, to see for myself what had changed, what stayed the same and what is gone forever.

I lived in Fukushima for many years, in a place called Iwaki City, where I was a participant on an international exchange endeavor called the JET Program. I was fortunate to be placed in Fukushima, for it is a beautiful place full of fascinating people.

In the days and months following the quake, Americans frantically canceled their travel plans to Japan, refusing even to lay over in one of Tokyo’s airports for a brief few hours. As if one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history and the catastrophic tsunami weren’t enough to make visitors leery, the blown-out nuclear facilities at Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant complicated matters even more. To date, tourism in beleaguered Fukushima prefecture is down more than 60 percent, according to Hisashi Ueno, a director at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

fukushima rice field overgrown car japan

Taking up about as much land area as the Bahamas, Fukushima is one of Japan’s larger, rural prefectures. But prior to March 11, there were probably even Japanese people who couldn’t find Fukushima on a map. It’s tragic and unfortunate that Fukushima went from relative obscurity to international infamy. But there is a charm and a beauty to Fukushima that must not be overshadowed by radioactive fear.

Autumn in Japan

When I returned to America from my most recent trip, a colleague offhandedly commented that I’d best keep my irradiated self away from her vicinity. She was joking, of course. But her wry sentiment is reflective of a larger social stigma growing around the word Fukushima. And while people’s apprehensions about going anywhere near a place with a melted-down nuclear reactor are reasonable, it’s important to emphasize that Fukushima is not in a state of apocalyptic nuclear fallout.

shoe hirono beach fukushima japan

Half a year after the quake, Japan is back on its feet. It’s not even wobbly. Trains and buses operate to the usual standard of perfect punctuality. The iconic temples of ancient Kyoto (far, far from the epicenter) have remained open to visitors. The neon city of Tokyo still bustles and flows with life and activity, albeit in a slightly more energy-conscious manner. The sumo and baseball seasons are well under way, stadiums packed with cheering fans.

Right now I would not discourage anyone from traveling to Japan — for it is a fascinating country and its people are the most hospitable and generous on Earth.

Fukushima is no exception. As I traveled through the prefecture for one week in mid-September, I saw so much that had changed, and even more that was exactly the same as I left it. Fukushima’s rolling green mountains and warm summer nights were as familiar as Sapporo beer and cheap sushi. The residents I encountered, both foreign and Japanese, did not seem discouraged or beaten, but rather cautiously optimistic about the future to come.

rice field iwaki city fukushima japan

There is a phrase in Japanese — it’s the motto of the elementary school where I worked for three years — Makeji Damashi; an accurate translation of that might be Undefeated Spirit. And spirit is one thing that runs in no short supply in Fukushima.

Hearts of Cherry Blossoms (Japan)

Yes, a significant nuclear disaster took place along the prefecture’s northeastern coast. And today there is still a mandated no-go zone encompassing a 20-kilometer radius around the nuclear reactor. But that area is small when compared to the prefecture as a whole.

Outside of the evacuation zone, life has largely returned to normal for much of the prefecture. Clean-up efforts are well under way, children have been back in school since April, and the shortages of water, gasoline and supplies that crippled the region in the weeks following the quake are all a thing of the past.

So if you make a trip to Japan (and I encourage you to do so, particularly in the spring or autumn, when the scenery and weather are most lovely), do not be afraid of traveling north of Tokyo. For more intrepid travelers, Fukushima might just become the next big thing off the beaten path.

iwaki city sunset japan

Here are a few recommended places to see:

Tsurugajo: An ancient castle in the old samurai town of Aizu-wakamatsu, it’s astonishingly beautiful in the spring when more than 1,000 cherry trees burst into bloom.

Mount Bandai: Topping out just under 6,000 feet, Bandai is a relatively easy hike with rewarding views to be found on any of its six major hiking paths. Make sure you find the old hot spring, bubbling steamy water just off the main route.

Goshiki-numa (Five Colored Lakes): These lakes were formed 123 years ago by a volcanic eruption of Mount Bandai, which deposited minerals into the lakes, giving each of them its own mysterious color that changes with the seasons.

Aquamarine Fukushima: Iwaki’s famous aquarium was hit hard by the tsunami but has reopened to the public, featuring a re-creation of the nearby Shiome sea, where rivers flow into the ocean and meet colliding currents. The result is a diverse and fascinating biome that can be viewed in the 540,000-gallon centerpiece tank.

— written and photographed by James A. Foley, www.jamesafoley.com

Mexico‘s gotten a bad rap lately. Most people hear the name and automatically think violence. But the truth is, while certain cities in Mexico are unsafe right now, like Ciudad Juarez, there are many areas, like Cancun, Riviera Maya and Playa Del Carmen, that could be considered some of the safest travel destinations in the Caribbean. Even if that doesn’t ease your mind, consider this: the distance from Ciudad Juarez to the Riviera Maya is more than 2,100 miles. That’s greater than the distance from Dallas, TX, to Detroit, MI. You wouldn’t tell a foreigner not to come to the U.S. because Detroit can be dangerous.

The Riviera Maya, located on the eastern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula, is one of the most eco-friendly destinations in all of Mexico, with a strong emphasis on sustainability and preserving the environment. The area, which is home to many historic sites, is full of beautiful beaches with dozens of luxury all-inclusive resorts and many fine dining options. Following are four off-the-beaten-path activities for you to try during your next visit.

8 Warm Weather Winter Vacations

1. Rio Secreto: The longest semi-sunken cave in the Yucatan Peninsula is a stunning, 7.5-mile-long underground river with thousands of ancient stalactites and stalagmites. Before 2007, almost no one had entered Rio Secreto — translated as the “Secret River” — except for the man who first found it. But now, there are guided tours available (starting at $59) that allow you to hike and swim through a 600-meter route, providing you access to some of the most dramatic mineral formations in the world. (See RioSecretoMexico.com.)

rio secreto cave riviera maya

2. Annual Whale Shark Festival: The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world, extends along the coast of the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and continues south alongside the Riviera Maya, making the area a hot spot for scuba divers and snorkelers. But if you’re looking for something truly unique, attend the annual Whale Shark Festival in July. Guests can swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean and an endangered species. The festival kicks off with the whale shark afuera, when hundreds of these gentle giants migrate near the coast of Isla Mujeres. (See WhaleSharkFest.com.)

whale shark

3. Water Journey at Grand Velas Spa: This hour-long relaxation ritual in the Water Lounge of the Grand Velas Riviera Maya Spa is built around the use of eight specially designed water-based facilities (picture a steam room and sauna on steroids). Led by a personal spa valet, the Water Journey is a truly relaxing hydrotherapy experience that alternates between various hot and cold rooms and pools — like the Clay Room, a circular steam room with a fiber-optic “starlight” ceiling, and the Ice Room, with floor-to-ceiling windows. You can also recline and relax in the central infinity pool, which has massaging faucets throughout and carved-stone chaises with jets set just underneath the surface of the water. (See RivieraMaya.GrandVelas.com.)

water journey grand velas spa riviera maya

4. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead): Beginning on October 31 with festivities continuing through November 2, this Mexican holiday, rooted in Aztec culture dating back thousands of years, is marked by lively gatherings, colorful costumes and ancient traditions to honor the souls of the departed. Dia de los Muertos festivities begin with All Saints Day, which honors infants and children, and is commonly referred to as “Dia de los Angelitos,” or “Day of the Little Angels.” Celebrations continue with All Souls Day, which honors adults who have passed on. Though customs vary throughout the country, common traditions include visiting the gravesites of deceased loved ones, building altars in their honor, and offering symbolic tokens such as sugar skulls and marigolds. Visitors to the Riviera Maya can attend the “Life and Death Traditions Festival,” held each year at the eco-archaeological park Xcaret, where festivities include plays, dances, cemetery tours and art exhibitions. (See FestivaldeVidayMuerte.com.)

dia de los muertos life and death traditions festival riviera maya

Find Mexico Travel Deals

— written by Kate Parham

Senior TravelerWhile senior airfare discounts are not as common as they used to be, some airlines still offer travel deals exclusively for passengers of a certain age. A few airlines offer senior discount booklets with one-way tickets, while others offer a fixed percentage off the fare.

Here’s a list of what major airlines currently offer elderly passengers as incentives to fly:

American Airlines: Senior citizen fares are offered in some American, American Eagle and American Connection domestic markets for seniors ages 65 or older. Travelers should call American Airlines at 1-800-433-7300.

Delta: While Delta offers senior discounts on certain itineraries, the discounts aren’t available online, so travelers should call 1-800-221-1212 to check eligibility.

Delta Shuttle: Senior fares are offered for travelers ages 62 and above. Delta Shuttle operates 16 daily flights between New York and Boston, and 15 daily flights between New York and Washington D.C., from Monday through Friday. Call reservations at 800-221-1212 and tell the agent that you are interested in the senior fares, or check with an agent at any Delta ticket office.

Southwest Airlines: Discount fares are available to those 65 years or older. For details on fares and limitations, call 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792). As an additional benefit, senior fares are also fully refundable on Southwest.

Continental: Senior fares are offered to certain destinations for passengers ages 65 and older. Ask when making reservations or, when booking online, select the seniors (age 65 and older) category. Call 1-800-523-3273 for more information.

Air France: Senior fares are reserved for passengers 60 years of age or older within metropolitan France. Proof of age must be shown, and the tickets are neither changeable nor refundable. The airline can be reached at 1-800-237-2747.

US Airways: Open to those ages 65 and older, senior fares are available online. Click on the Promos link on the US Airways home page to see if a discount applies to a particular flight. Only certain flights are eligible. For more information, call 1-800-428-4322.

United Airlines: United offers senior citizen discounts in certain markets. Contact United’s reservations department at 1-800-241-6522 to find out if a senior discount is applicable for a particular flight.

Some airlines don’t offer discounts on flights, but have partnership agreements offering senior discounts on hotels, rental cars, and attractions and events. Organizations like AARP have an active discount travel program that covers car rentals, hotels, tours and cruises, so check them out before booking.

Many of the airlines’ regular discount fares are cheaper than senior fares. If you’re not able to find a senior discount, there are still ways to find low-cost airfares:

-Sign up for airline and travel newsletters and deal notification alerts.

-Be flexible with your dates. The savings can often be significant if you’re willing to depart on a Tuesday morning rather than a Friday evening.

-Be aware of fees. Airlines nowadays are charging fees for everything, so think ahead by packing only a carry-on, dodging change fees and bringing your own snacks onboard.

One last thing to remember: While senior fares may sometimes cost more than the airline’s online-only specials, the difference is rarely more than a few dollars and there are advantages to booking as a senior. Senior fares may not be as restrictive as other fares and are usually refundable. If you are flexible about when you fly or you have missed out on the online special fares, senior fares may be your best option.

— reprinted with permission from Cheapflights.com

australia Australia is one of those epic destinations — a vast place we need plenty of time to explore. But a weeks-long Australia trip isn’t cheap (especially for travelers who must purchase airfare from the U.S.), and if you want to spend any kind of extended time there without the aid of a trust fund, you’ll either need to save significant cash before your trip — or find a way to make some money while in Australia. Enter the working holiday visa.

If you’re a resident of the U.S., Canada, France, the U.K., Germany, Italy or one of several other countries and are between the ages of 18 and 30 at the time of your application, you can secure an Australia working holiday visa, which grants permission to stay in the country for up to 12 months, paying taxes at a rate of 29 percent (some of which can be recouped once you leave). And if you end up finding a job you love, no worries, mate. Your employer can help you stay for an additional four years after your initial visa expires.

The visa — which generally costs a few hundred dollars — doesn’t guarantee you a job, just the right to work and live in Australia for up to a year. You’ll still need to arrange your flights to Australia and find your own work. Some companies will set up a few nights’ accommodations for new employees, but after that, you’re on your own in Oz.

What are your job options in Australia? You can stay in a major city, working in a hostel or restaurant, or make your home in a picturesque country spot like one of Australia’s wine regions, where you can help with the annual harvest. You can work on a cattle ranch in the Outback, or take a job at a ski resort in the mountains. You’ve got some choices to make.

If you meet the requirements to get that visa, a working vacation can help you fund your extended stay in Australia, giving you the time and money to explore the beautiful land Down Under.

— written by Katie Hammel, the editor at BootsnAll.com, where you can search for cheap flights to Australia or learn more about the best places to be an expat.

washington dcAs the capital of the U.S., Washington D.C. is full of amazing things to see, fascinating history to explore and delicious restaurants to draw your dollar from your purse. But your budget holiday in Washington D.C. doesn’t have to break the bank. There are lots of free activities to enjoy, some perfectly priced restaurants and great-value accommodations in the District of Columbia.

Cheap Sleep
The District Hotel in the Logan Circle Historic District is less than six blocks from the White House, the National Mall and Chinatown, and it’s just a five-minute walk to restaurants, bars and Embassy Row. All rooms have cable TV, air-conditioning and en-suite bathrooms. There’s also free daily continental breakfast and space for parking (for a fee). Private rooms start from $119 per night. There are also plenty of other cheap hotels and hostels in Washington D.C. for travelers on a budget.

Bargain Eats
As a university town, Washington D.C. has plenty of budget eateries to satisfy hungry students, of which thrifty travelers can take full advantage. There are many great value restaurants around the campuses, such as Ben’s Chili Bowl, famous for its chili dogs and chili half-smokes (Bill Cosby cites it as his favorite restaurant in Washington).

Or try the award-winning Hank’s Oyster Bar. The restaurant’s fresh New England beach-style seafood dishes include such delights as crab cake eggs Benedict, smoked salmon platter and seafood omelet — all for fantastic prices. And of course, a variety of oyster dishes are on the menu, as well as a flavorsome selection of wine, microbrews and seasonal beer.

Free Things to Do
– Most of the museums and historic sites at the National Mall are free, including the Smithsonian museums. The tree-lined Mall extends from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol Building and has plenty of green space for you to set up a picnic and enjoy the architecture from the comfort of your blanket.

– Admission to the National Zoo is free. Travelers of all ages will love the pandas, gorillas and monkeys that call the beautiful Rock Creek National Park (where the Smithsonian National Zoological Park is set) home. Apart from the zoo, there are spaces to picnic, hike, play tennis, ride horses, join animal talks and enjoy the crafts at the nature center in Rock Creek National Park.

– Every evening at 6 p.m., the Kennedy Center, Washington’s premier concert hall, puts on free performances. Regular stars include the National Symphony Orchestra, jazz musicians and dance troupes, so keep an eye on the listings.

– Go for one of the daily free tours around the U.S. Capitol building — but get there early, as they’re first come, first served. Otherwise, just browse the galleries at the Capital Visitor Center, where you can watch a live video feed of House and Senate floor proceedings. Visit the U.S. Botanic Garden next door; it houses roughly 4,000 seasonal, tropical and subtropical plants.

– Check out the National Gallery of Art, which has a vast free sculpture garden. Enjoy a guided tour around the center for — you guessed it — free!

– Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of American servicemen and women. You can walk the grounds for free (but to find the most interesting graves, take a guided tour bus for just $7.50).

– The Bureau of Engraving and Printing runs free tours around the factory where money is printed, cut and examined.

– No visit to Washington D.C. is complete without a tour of the White House. You must make a request through your Congressperson at least 21 days in advance. (Visitors from outside the U.S. should contact their embassy in Washington to submit a tour request.) Otherwise, you can visit the White House Visitor Center for free.

— written by Shing Mon Chung, SEO Executive of HostelBookers.com

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which begins April 12, commemorates a conflict that preserved the United States and ended slavery, albeit at the cost of some 625,000 soldiers’ lives. That’s a sobering figure, yet this sesquicentennial is not all memorials, re-enactments and conventional battlefield tours. The occasion has also inspired a lot of offbeat Civil War tours and events — some wacky, some enlightening — thanks to a few folks with horse sense, tours that tell the oft-neglected African-American story, one baritone and 100,000 ghosts.

Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry: Harpers Ferry, WV
Of the gazillion ghost tours offered in the U.S.A., Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry stands out. That’s partly because John Brown’s failed raid on Harpers Ferry (1859) is said to have created a lot of ghosts, and partly because guide Rick Garland, a dead ringer for Jeb Stuart, is a spellbinding storyteller. This baritone and pianist also offers intimate O’ Be JoyFull performances of Civil War period music. “I play a lot of Stephen Foster, who invented American popular music,” says Garland. “I’ve also seen veterans cry over ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.'” Surely not because of the price: just $10.

rick garland o be joyfull tour

The Civil War and Slavery Walking Tour: Charleston, SC
This tour is “offbeat” because of its emphasis on the oft-neglected African-American experience. After you’ve visited Fort Sumter, where Secessionists first fired at Union troops on April 12, 1861, take this two-hour walk with Old Charleston Tours. Goosebump moment: When guide Michael Brown points to where Robert Smalls, a slave, “borrowed” a boat and sailed off into Charleston Harbor to escape bondage. He later joined the U.S. Navy and risked death, or worse, by piloting a Union warship right back into Charleston Harbor.

Segway Tours of Battlefields: Petersburg, Spotsylvania and Richmond, VA
To some people, Segways on these hallowed grounds (90,000 casualties) are a sacrilege; to others they just look goofy. But folks, they are practical. “These battlefields are huge, so most people can’t cover them by foot,” says Trent Adams of Segway of Richmond. “And unlike cars, Segways let you explore the parts of Petersburg National Battlefield Park in the order in which events happened. Besides, on Segways, you can ride into the fort, and you can ride right up to the crater.”

Crater? Union soldiers created it when they set off gunpowder in a mine. “The explosion,” says Adams, “was kind of bigger than they’d expected.” Segway of Richmond, whose tours start at $45, is also rolling out (heh heh, a little Segway humor) a new Civil War tour of Richmond. For Segway tours of nearby Spotsylvania National Battlefield, contact Old Town Seg Tours.

petersburg battlefield segway tour

Buckboards and Bikes: Antietam National Battlefield Park, MD
With 23,000 casualties, the Battle of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, was the bloodiest 12 hours of the Civil War. After the battle, hundreds of civilians rode onto the fields in buckboards to pick up the dead. You can visit Antietam in an authentic, hand-made buckboard, too; contact Bonnymeed Stables: (304) 876-1307 or bonnymeedfarm@gmail.com ($75). You’re also allowed to ride bicycles on many Civil War battlegrounds; Pedal and Paddle offers rentals ($30 – $40) and shuttles to Antietam.

The Haunted Hearse: Vicksburg, MS
The Union’s victory in this Mississippi city split the Confederacy in two: ergo, lots of unhappy ghosts. History buff Morgan Gates takes up to six passengers at a time for Haunted Vicksburg Tours ($25) in a most appropriate vehicle: a hearse. But how do you see ghosts, or anything else, from inside a hearse? There are, in fact, five windows, and Gates has also mounted a videocam on the hearse that streams on an inside monitor. “There’s a lot of paranormal activity now because of the upcoming anniversary,” says Gates. Uh, okay.

vicksburg hearse tour

Horseback Riding Tours: Gettysburg, PA
Site of the turning point of the Civil War, Gettysburg offers every imaginable way to revisit history, from traditional tours to SegTours’ guided tours of the sprawling battlefield, as well as numerous ghost tours, including Ghosts of Gettysburg excursions run by author and historian Mark Nesbitt. Perhaps best of all, Artillery Ridge offers two-hour horseback tours of the battlefield ($75 per person) with recorded narration, and Hickory Hollow Farm offers horseback tours with a licensed guide ($55 an hour). Riding across the Gettysburg battlefield, you get a profound sense of how this terrain looked to the mounted troops. These rides follow the same route up the Union-held ridge that the right flank of 12,000 Confederates took in Pickett’s Charge. At the top you get a sweeping view of the battlefield, but Pickett’s men didn’t get that far. So on July 3, 1863, the whole direction of the war changed.

gettysburg horseback riding tour ride horse battlefield

Ghouls Across the Globe: Seven Thrilling Ghost Tours

— written by Ed Wetschler, the executive editor of Tripatini.com, the travel social media site a.k.a. “Facebook for travelers.”

piggy bank airplane air travel vacationYour vacation is planned, your bags are packed and you’re ready to fly. But did you know that even after you’ve purchased your plane tickets, you could still incur fees on your flight? It’s true. Baggage fees are the best-known a la carte charges, but there are many others, big and small, that can crop up once you reach the airport. Here are five ways to avoid them.

1. Pack light and save up to $50 in checked bag fees each way. While a few airlines still allow you to bring checked luggage without a fee (such as Southwest and many international carriers), most U.S. airlines will charge you to handle your bags. The best way to bypass this is by taking fewer things and packing them all into a carry-on bag. Do you really need a dozen shirts for a five-day trip? Chances are, you’ll only wear half of those and wish you had left the rest at home. Bring pieces that mix and match with each other. That way all the tops go with all the bottoms, and you can make three or four days’ worth of clothes last two to three weeks without wearing the same outfit twice. Women can toss in a simple dress and use easy accessories to make it seem totally new if it needs to be worn again. For men, it’s even easier: just bring a variety of ties, which take up almost no room.

Limit yourself to two pairs of shoes that look great whether dressed up or down and that are comfortable to walk in. Shoes can take up way too much space in a travel bag, which isn’t helpful when you have limited space to work with. I find shoes that go with everything in my bag and then I pack one pair and wear the bulkier of the two on the plane.

Editor’s Note: Get more space-saving ideas in What Not to Pack.

2. Bring your own food. Most flights don’t offer free meals anymore. Heck, you’re lucky if you get a free drink and a snack. If there are meals or more substantial snacks offered on a flight, they generally cost quite a bit more than you would pay if you picked them up at the grocery store (think $8 – 10 for a sandwich, $6 for a “snack box”). These are things you could make for a fraction of the price at home and bring with you. Security has no problem with food, as long as you aren’t trying to also pack pudding and a drink. I tend to stock up on 100-calorie packs before my trips and then take a nice variety in my carry-on to snack on throughout the flight. Granola bars are also easily packable and can keep you full until you reach your destination.

3. Go totally wireless. Almost all the airlines offer Wi-Fi services on their planes, but it isn’t free. Is it really that necessary to update your Facebook status mid-flight? Keep your credit card in your wallet and opt for a good book or magazine. You’ll save a minimum of $10 for each leg of your flight.

4. Bring your own headphones. If you’re lucky enough to get on a flight that offers onboard entertainment, you’ll need some headphones to participate. Remember just a few short years ago where the flight attendants practically threw handfuls of headsets through the cabin like Mardi Gras beads? Well, no more. Now if you want to watch the movies or listen to the same 12 songs on their airline radio station, you’ll be expected to shell out $3 – $5 for a pair of those less-than-optimal headphones that practically break before you’ve touched down. Most people bring an iPod or handheld gaming device on their trips, so make sure you include your own better-constructed pair that doesn’t have to be vacuum-sealed for freshness.

5. Skip the upgrade. If offered an upgrade upon check-in, think twice — especially if it’s for a relatively short flight. Being in first or business class would be nice, but the upgrade fee can leave you $50 – $100 poorer. Gripe about your loss of extra legroom if you must, but that money could go a long way toward doing something more fun than sitting while you’re actually on your trip.

— written by Shereen Rayle, Editor of Shereen Travels Cheap

Lindsay Carreiro, a globetrotting teacher who blogs about her adventures on Traveling Linds, is our guest blogger today. Below, she shares her top five travel-size products.alba green tea moisturizer

When the TSA put into effect that liquid travel items must be no larger than 3.4 ounces, I imagine this caused quite a run on travel-size products. For many years I have tried coming up with new ways to get my travel products through security without inhibiting what I can pack. It can often be frustrating for travelers, especially women travelers who like to bring certain items along on vacation. Buying travel-size items in your local drug store seems fun, and they sure are cute, but really, how many of us are actually using the shampoo and conditioner they are marketing in travel size? After many years of shopping around, I have finally found some of the best products that are travel friendly and do not scrimp on product. These products were used by me and also my boyfriend on a recent trip to Alaska. I would argue that these products would fit perfectly into any vacation you are planning.

1. Alba Botanica Aloe & Green Tea Oil-Free Moisturizer (3-Ounce Bottle)
This moisturizer is hands down the best moisturizer I have ever used. It is light and non-greasy. It doesn’t feel like you are wearing a mask on your face. The aloe is really soothing and came in handy when my boyfriend became slightly sunburned on his face.

2. Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment (.75-Ounce Bottle)
I swear by this stuff whenever I am traveling. This is a perfect travel-size product for those rather annoying pimples that pop up at the worst time. It does exactly what the commercials say it does: reduces pimple size in four hours — very true! While in Alaska this was used several times by me and my boyfriend. The liquid goes on clear so you can treat pimples without anyone noticing.

3. Monistat Soothing Care Chafing Relief Powder-Gel (1.5-Ounce Bottle)
This chafing relief powder reduces chafing from many areas on your body: inner thighs, bikini area and also your heels of your feet. This is made by Monistat — but don’t let the brand confuse you. Men all over are trying this out because it really does work. I used it a lot when wearing skirts and dresses, and my boyfriend put it on his feet to prevent blisters. Having blisters on a 10-day cruise to Alaska can really spoil the mood.

4. Bausch and Lomb Advanced Eye Relief (1-Ounce Bottle)
Airplane dry eyes: We all get it, and every time it happens we say “should have packed eye drops!” This product not only targets dry eyes, but it also targets redness too. If you are an allergy sufferer like me, then itchy, watery eyes are the worst. I really recommend using this — it works just as well as prescription eye drops.

5. Sunbug Handsfree Sunscreen & Insect Repellent, SPF 30 (2-Ounce Bottle)
If you are like me and bugs such as mosquitoes just seem to be drawn to you, then this stuff will work great. With an SPF 30, it will keep the harmful sun rays away from you, but it also works into the night to create a bug barrier. It has a convenient attachment right to your backpack or purse so you can keep it handy. This sunscreen and insect repellent is hypo-allergenic, oil-free and sweat-proof. It was the perfect combination for a long trip. Plus, it saves suitcase space!

Of course, there are many products out there that work great for traveling, so the choice is ultimately yours. I have found each and every one of these products to work great. It is nice to know that wherever I am traveling, I know at least five products I am definitely taking with me. Trying to pack light is always on everyone’s to-do list, and if you can eliminate taking too many products and just get it down to the necessities you will be better off.

–by Lindsay Carreiro, Editor of Traveling Linds

What are your favorite travel-size products?