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Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two warm-weather adventures.

Would you rather…

… hike to a secret waterfall in Kauai, Hawaii, or …

kauai waterfall



… go snorkeling in Tahiti?

snorkel snorkeling tahiti


Here in the Northeast, we’re sick of ice and snow — which is why we chose two warm-weather experiences for this week. The first picture captures one of the many waterfalls on the Hawaiian isle of Kauai; known as the Garden Island, it’s a haven for hikers and nature lovers. In the second photo are snorkelers enjoying the unspoiled undersea landscape off the coast of Tahiti.

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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.

This week’s shot is of a lone paddle boarder on a beach in Kauai, Hawaii.

sunset beach kauai hawaii paddle board


Our Favorite Honolulu Hotels

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Slideshow: The World’s Best Beaches

– written by Sarah Schlichter

seaweed brittany franceIt was a hot day, and people walked for hours along a narrow, rocky path because there were no roads to where they were going. Everyone was walking together by the sea, which was very still and calm. They all seemed happy — because they were on their way to a seaweed festival!

The Fete du Goemon, or Seaweed Festival, takes place each year in the western Brittany region of France on the last Sunday in July (mark your calendar for the 29th). Drawn by a small poster in a shop window, I stopped by the festival to watch people drying seaweed in stone troughs, demonstrating how to extract iodine from it and how to use the rest in recipes or as fuel. There was also a band, long trestle tables laden with food and drink, and a stall selling such dubiously useful items as a seaweed comb and seaweed sandals.

Seaweed was once a tremendously important factor in this part of Northern France’s economy, but the money isn’t what it was and the demand for fuels has gone elsewhere. Now the old seaweed stations are mainly grassed over and draw only a yearly crop of curious people like me.

Sound strange? There are even weirder festivals out there! Below are some of the odder ones I found while planning this year’s activities. Hopefully they’ll inspire the more inquisitive among you to go and find your own unusual customs and bizarre gatherings.

Air Guitar World Championships: Oulu, Finland
Forget standing around watching a holographic Tupac flickering onstage. On the 22nd of August, you can watch some of the world’s most extroverted proponents of air guitar plugging in their imaginary instruments and taking to the stage at the 2012 Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland. The city, home to mobile phone giant Nokia, has been troubling the air waves this way since 1996, with the festival becoming a huge forum for ax men and women around the world to prove their mimesmanship (actual term). Current Finnish champion Puccini Vibre will be looking to continue his current form with a win at the festival, though many eyes are on the 2011 U.S. Air Guitar Champion Nordic Thunder (real name Justin Howard), who is expected to take the crown.

One Summer Festival That’s Not Worth the Trip

Naki Sumo: Tokyo, Japan
A crying baby ought to be bad luck. Not so in Japan, where a yearly festival seeks to oust evil spirits through babies’ tears. Every year, more than 100 babies are brought by their parents to the steps of the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, where they are made to cry by huge sumo wrestlers, who hold the babies up in the air above their heads. Weirdly, the babies usually seem unperturbed by this and, to avoid the bad luck that would be brought by the babies not crying, the sumo wrestlers end up pulling hideous faces and gently shaking them, with the temple priests even doing their bit to frighten the children with masks. This festival takes place every year at the end of April. Entrance is free.

The Best Places to Stay in Tokyo

Spam Jam: Waikiki, Hawaii
Waikiki draws big crowds to take part in surfing festivals, but those in the know come to check out Spam Jam, one of the biggest street festivals dedicated to Spam in the world! According to the Spam Jam Web site, Hawaiians eat more Spam than anyone else on Earth, and the springtime event aims to celebrate this with great food, dancing and family entertainment on two stages. There are Spam plays and Spam dancers and opportunities to pick up Spam t-shirts. The whole thing is in aid of the Hawaii Food Bank, a non-profit organisation that provides food for people in need. Start thinking about your plane tickets if you’d like to get involved with Spam Jam 2013, which will begin on the 27th of April.

Our Favorite Honolulu Hotels

– written by Josh Thomas

cozumel cabana seaEvery Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Not ready to stow those summer flip-flops for another year? Grab your sandals and book a fall or winter trip to someplace sunny and warm — and save up to $550 in the process. Funjet Vacations is currently offering a special 72-hour sale on air/hotel or hotel-only trips to Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii.

The more you spend on your vacation, the more you save. For example, if your total trip cost is between $1,500 and $2,000, you’ll get a discount of $115. Raise the total to between $2,001 and $3,000, and you’ll save $200. You get the picture. For the maximum discount of $550, you’ll have to spend at least $6,001.

The Catch: This isn’t the type of sale you can mull over for a week or two before booking. Come this Thursday at 6 p.m. CT, it’ll be gone — so make your decision and act quickly.

The Competition: Hyatt is offering up to $500 in resort credit at participating properties in Aruba, Cancun, Maui, Key West and other sunny destinations. Unlike the Funjet discount, which reduces the total cost of your trip, this credit is like free extra cash that you can spend on spa treatments, meals and activities at your resort.

Find these bargains and more money-saving offers in our Vacation Package Deals.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Ilima Hotel Here’s the answer to last week’s “How Much Is This Hotel?” quiz. Play along with future hotel guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).

We have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is $600 per night. Jjb701, whose guess was closest without going over, has won a free IndepedentTraveler.com duffel bag.

The room pictured was the Deluxe Penthouse Waikiki Suite at the ‘Ilima Hotel, a budget-friendly property in Honolulu, located near Waikiki Beach. Prices for the Waikiki Suite range from $560 to $600 per night, but the space is enormous. There are two full kitchens, a washer and a dryer, two bathrooms, two TV’s, and a total of six beds (including a sleeper sofa). Read more about the ‘Ilima Hotel in Honolulu Essentials.

Check back this Friday for another shot at winning a prize.

– written by Caroline Costello

Just like Kate, you can walk down the aisle of an iconic historic treasure to marry a prince. Okay, we can’t guarantee the prince part (a partner with princely qualities is a good substitute), but we do know of a few historic attractions that are the perfect places for a fairy tale wedding in the style of European royalty — and a ticket across the pond won’t be required for the event.

Castles built by America’s royalty, from Gilded Age robber barons to, well, authentic royals (think Hawaii), make for spectacularly impressive weddings. Your event may not be viewed on YouTube by half the world, but it will be an occasion to remember, with a grandiose 250-room chateau, splendid gardens or a six-story medieval-style castle setting the scene for your nuptials.

Don’t feel left out if you aren’t walking down the aisle anytime soon. These attractions are open for tours as well as weddings.

Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
When a newspaper tycoon of the Gilded Age builds his dream home, moderation is negligible. Fifty-six bedrooms and 61 bathrooms are a must. A world-class collection of priceless art, a private zoo and two lavish swimming pools are obligatory. And perfectly manicured gardens bursting with color? William Randolph Hearst had to have them, so he surrounded his American castle with acres of exotic plants, from elegant cypress trees to vibrant pomegranate hedges, inspired by gardens in Italy and Spain. All in all, the place makes a sensational backdrop for a royal-esque wedding. Couples can tie the knot on one of the castle’s many terraces, with the surrounding emerald San Simeon hills and the castle’s white Mediterranean Revival-style towers stretching to the sky behind them.

 Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle



Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned home in the United States, seems straight out of a fairy tale. The Vanderbilt mansion was built in the 1800’s in the romantic architectural style of French chateaus, with tall spires and steeply pitched roofs. The gardens of Biltmore, where weddings are held amidst cool lily ponds, stone walls, ancient cypress trees and blooming beds of delicate flowers, extend for nearly 8,000 acres. Read more about Asheville.

Biltmore Estate



Boldt Castle, Heart Island, New York
Nestled in New York’s Thousand Islands region, Boldt Castle is a living tribute to love. The six-story castle was commissioned by American hotelier George Boldt to honor his wife, Louise. Construction began in 1900, and the Boldt family visited the castle regularly as it was built, staying in nearby Alster Tower. But work on the structure ceased suddenly in 1904 when Louise died and a heartbroken George Boldt abandoned the project that he had shared with his beloved partner. The incredible 120-room castle was left unfinished for 73 years until it was restored in the 1970’s. Today, couples can arrange a wedding on the appropriately named Heart Island, where the Boldts’ massive medieval-style castle stands as a magnificent monument to marriage.

Boldt Castle



Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawaii
The United States is home to a single royal palace, about which American travelers can proudly brag to British locals on trips to the U.K. It’s Honolulu‘s Iolani Palace, the former home of King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani. The palace, built in 1879, sits on land that is believed to be the site of an ancient Hawaiian place of worship, a sacred area known as a “wahi pana.” Weddings can be held on the royal palace’s lawns beneath swaying palm trees and Indian banyan trees.

Iolani Palace



Rosecliff, Newport, Rhode Island
Dance and dine under painted ceilings in the ballroom at Rosecliff, the only Newport mansion that is available for weddings. Newport is the storied site of some of the United States’ most lavish mansions. The area was the summer vacation spot of choice for Gilded Age American elites like the Vanderbilts and the Astors; their opulent homes sit on acres of beautifully landscaped gardens near dramatic coastal cliffs. (There’s even a 19th-century topiary garden with bushes cut into the shapes of animals nearby.) Rosecliff, built for the Oelrich family in the style of Versailles, was featured in the film “The Great Gatsby.”

rosecliff



– written by Caroline Costello

Kilauea VolcanoIf Barack Obama’s allegedly long-lost birth certificate is wedged between igneous rocks in Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii Tours is going to find it.

The tour company is raising eyebrows and poking fun at political conspiracy theories with its cheeky “Find Obama’s Birth Certificate” tour package, which takes travelers to places where clues to the location of Obama’s proof of citizenship just might surface. Participants will visit Kilauea Volcano, home to all-knowing Pele the Hawaiian Fire Goddess, who may reveal the location of the lost documents if she is in a favorable mood. Pearl Harbor Memorial and the Kahala Hotel and Resort, sites where Obama has been and may have dropped his birth certificate on the floor somewhere, are also on the itinerary.

What’s going on here? George Kaka of Hawaii Tours said in an e-mail, “‘Find the President’s Birth Certificate’ tour package was conceived to bring a lighthearted, adventurous aspect to touring the Hawaiian Islands. We believe in weaving relevant and recent history into our tours, when possible.”

No need to send angry e-mails to George. Hawaii Tours is only having fun. But political pundits and conspiracy nuts claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the United States are quite serious, and have been speaking out in blogs and books since the 2008 presidential election campaign. The theories are, according to a wide range of reputable sources, untrue. FactCheck.org confirms that President Obama, who was born in Honolulu, does have his original sealed and stamped Hawaii birth certificate. A scanned copy of the document is available for viewing on the Fight the Smears Web site.

Nonetheless, many still believe that Obama was not born in the United States. (Google “Barack Obama’s Birth Certificate” and you’ll find ample evidence of them starting arguments all over the Internet.) And now, these folks have a great excuse to skip off to Hawaii and do a little investigative reporting (though, really, the only thing I’d be investigating is who serves the best mai tais).

If you’d like your Hawaii vacation with a side of rapier-sharp political satire, you can book the three-day “Find Obama’s Birth Certificate” package for $399 per person. And let us know if you find it.

– written by Caroline Costello