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mexico day of the deadIt’s that time of year again: Halloween! If you’re like most people in the U.S., you’ve carved jack-o’-lanterns, hung cornstalks and purchased candy in preparation for the adorable costume-clad beggars who will likely be knocking on your door dressed as witches and skeletons and ghosts. That’s the ideal scenario, but you might instead find yourself dealing with scantily clad teenagers who demand goodies and then egg your home when they’re turned away.

If you’re hoping to get out of Dodge for this potentially horrifying holiday, take a peek at how four other countries handle Halloween.

Ireland
Ireland is considered the birthplace of Halloween, which is based on Samhain, the annual Celtic festival that acknowledged dead walking among the living and marked the end of harvest season. Although Halloween in Ireland is now celebrated in much the same way as it is in the U.S., activities like bonfires and parties are generally front and center, especially for children, who can win small prizes like candy and coins by playing themed games.

Mexico
In Mexico, locals celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) over a two-day period that begins on November 1. Festivals, parties, food and themed activities mark the occasion, which coincides with the Catholic religion’s All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Skeletons have become synonymous with the holiday, which celebrates the lives of the departed rather than mourning their deaths.

Learn More About the Day of the Dead

China
Teng Chieh, China‘s version of Halloween, finds participants lighting lanterns to help guide the spirits of dead relatives, for whom they also leave refreshments. Some locals also choose to make paper boats, which are then burned to release the souls of those who have died but haven’t received proper burial.

France
If what you actually want to do is escape Halloween altogether, plan a trip to France. Although it becomes more well known there every year, thanks to North American influences, the holiday is still generally obscure and not widely celebrated.

Trick or Travel: The World’s Most Haunted Destinations

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

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 holidays being celebrated today, March 17.

Would you rather…

… join the St. Patrick’s Day revelry in Ireland, or …

st patrick's day parade cork ireland



… throw brightly colored powder to celebrate Holi in India?

holi festival india


St. Patrick’s Day, which honors the patron saint of Ireland, is celebrated with parades, green clothing and the odd drink or two by the Irish diaspora around the world. Holi is a Hindu festival that honors the coming of spring with frolicking and the flinging of colorful powder; it’s observed primarily in India and other South Asian nations.

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

I’ve always had a long bucket list. At last count it was up to 19 experiences, and already I despaired of ever crossing them all off. Then IndependentTraveler.com launched a new series of destination slideshows featuring 10 to 13 amazing (and often little known) things to do in countries around the world. And bang, my bucket list jumped from 19 to 25 in a matter of minutes. Now I’ve had a sneak peek at two of our upcoming slideshows, covering Turkey and France, and I’m pretty sure that 25 is about to go up to 27.

Because “misery” loves company, I feel compelled to share those experiences that most resonated with me. Lock down your bucket lists before reading on or you may find your list of must-do travel experiences growing too.

matera cave hotelsCaving
Did you know you can spend the night in an ancient cave in Italy? Neither did I until I started researching unusual things to do in the country. But once I read about the Matera cave hotels I was hooked. The idea of staying in a cave some ancient human may have slept in (but also having indoor plumbing!) is amazing to me. And the photos of the hotels with low-hanging stone ceilings, claw-foot bathtubs and candle-lit niches … all I can say is, I’ve definitely got to get there someday.

See More Amazing Italy Experiences

costa rica jungle lodgeCall of the Jungle
I don’t know what it says about me, but I’m way more excited by the thought of staying in a jungle eco-lodge (or the aforementioned caves) than a posh, five-star hotel. And though I always knew Costa Rica was the destination for eco-travelers, I didn’t realize how funky and fun-sounding the lodges there are. Like the Pacuare Jungle Lodge, which you can only get to via a whitewater rafting trip or a gondola ride. Talk about the middle of the jungle!


Check Out Other Exotic Things to Do in Costa Rica

ireland bargingBarging Right In
I readily admit I’m a bit of a Celtophile. Ireland is one of my favorite countries. I’ve been there four times and intend to go back again (and again!). But I thought I was pretty familiar with all the country had to offer until I wrote the 12 Best Ireland Experiences slideshow. I had no idea you could travel the country’s waterways on your own! Imagine steering your own barge peacefully along the river from near Dublin down to the Waterford area. Read a book, wave to the locals walking along the water, stop in a village for a brew at the neighborhood pub. What a lovely way to see Ireland’s picturesque towns and villages!

saxon switzerland national parkForest Imaginings
I don’t know what it is about primeval forests that catch my fancy. There’s just something about the immensity of them — towering trees, lofty stone cliffs, darkness carpeting the forest floor punctured by bolts of sunlight — that makes me catch my breath. So learning about the Saxon Switzerland National Park in East Germany was an eye-opener. With its tall limestone needles, evergreen-carpeted cliff faces, and miles of hikable forests, meadows and fields, this national secret is now firmly planted on my bucket list.

Other Cool Germany Experiences to Check Out

england yurtMongolian England
They had me at yurt. Yes, I said yurt, and I don’t even have to trek all the way to Mongolia. No, I can jet across the pond, make my way to a scenic English forest — the kind Robin Hood could make a home in — spend the day horseback riding and sampling the cider at a local pub called the King’s Arms, and then spend the night in an authentic Mongolian yurt. How cool is that!

Discover 12 More Great England Experiences

Shh, Don’t Tell
We haven’t launched our Turkey and France slideshows yet, but I can tell you I’m very excited to learn more about sea kayaking over the ancient ruins of a Turkish city and exploring the Celtic history of France’s Brittany region. Stay tuned.

– 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.

This week’s shot is from Ireland‘s dramatic Cliffs of Moher.

cliffs of moher ireland


12 Unforgettable Ireland Experiences

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.)

How to Plan a Trip to Europe in 10 Steps

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Newfoundland may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about traveling somewhere for its music. Instead, you might think Ireland for its Celtic sounds or New Orleans for great jazz; Nashville is world-famous for country music, while Salzburg and Vienna resonate with loves of classical.

But for me the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland ranks near the top of my list of for destinations I want to visit for their rich musical heritage. The city and island are steeped in maritime traditions including a love of rollicking sea shanties influenced by the Irish, English and Scottish sailors who alit on its shores centuries ago.

Want a taste of what Newfoundland has been known to serve up, musically speaking? Check out this clip from a Newfoundland & Labrador Folk Festival.



Other places high on my list of must-visit musical destinations include Ireland and Cape Breton.

I have yet to make it to Newfoundland or Cape Breton, but I’ve been to Ireland four times. One of my favorite trips included two nights in the small town of Doolin, where impromptu seisiúns popped up nightly.

Have you ever traveled somewhere just because of its musical traditions or history? Which cities call to you because an artist or music movement was born there?

Turn Your Favorite Hobby into a Trip

– written by Dori Saltzman

most welcoming countriesMany years ago, on a three-week tour of Ireland, a friend and I found ourselves on the streets of Dingle in the rain, waiting for our small tour bus to come pick us up. It was cold, and we huddled together beneath one small umbrella trying to stay warm. As we stood there shivering, the colorful front door of one of the small houses up the street swung open, and an older woman stepped out and waved to us.

“Come in, come in,” she yelled.

My friend and I looked at the woman, looked at each other and then jogged up the street and into a small, but warm living room. For the next 30 minutes, the woman plied us with hot tea and biscuits, asked us questions and showed us pictures of her family. When it was time to meet our tour bus, she gave us each a friendly hug goodbye.

Fifteen years later I sadly do not remember her name, but her kindness and friendliness toward us, strangers in her town, will never fade from my memory. And she is not the only truly friendly soul I’ve met on my travels in Ireland. There was the father in Northern Ireland with his two young children who picked my sister and me up off the side of the road and rushed us to the ferry port so we wouldn’t miss our boat, and the bus driver in Dublin who drove us to our hostel even though he was on his break and then refused to take money from us.

Random Acts of Travel Kindness

Because of these experiences, and the overall atmosphere of its inhabitants towards visitors, Ireland remains, in my opinion, the friendliest of all the 30-some countries I’ve visited. According to a recent report from the World Economic Forum, I am not alone in finding Ireland to be a super-friendly tourist destination.

In the report, “Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013,” 140 countries are ranked according to the attractiveness and competitiveness of their travel and tourism industries. One of the criteria included in the rankings is the attitude of the country’s citizens towards foreign visitors. Ireland ranked ninth.

Iceland leads the pack of friendliest countries, followed by New Zealand, Morocco, Macedonia, Austria, Senegal, Portugal, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Rounding off the top 10 is Burkina Faso.

Honestly, I was a bit surprised to see a few of those countries on the list, and also saddened that Australia (another of my top five friendliest countries) was left off (it ranked 27th overall). Another surprise (or maybe it’s not??) — the United States came in fairly low, placing 102 out of 140.

At the other end of the spectrum, Bolivia ranks as the most unwelcoming country for visitors, followed by Venezuela, Russia, Kuwait, Latvia, Iran, Pakistan, the Slovak Republic, Bulgaria and Mongolia.

When Travelers Get a Rude Awakening

Belgium, which I found to be the least friendly of all countries I’ve been to, actually ranked in the top 20 most welcoming countries, coming in at number 19.

What do you think of the results? Which of the countries you’ve visited have been the most friendly or least welcoming?

–written by Dori Saltzman

what people have forgotten at hotelsEver forgotten you were traveling with your mother and left her behind at the hotel after you checked out? How about your spouse? While you may have wanted to leave him or her behind, a poll by LastMinute.com of 500 hotels around the world found that these scenarios actually have happened.

In Prague a man left his wife behind – the hotel didn’t say if it was accidental or planned! And a hotel in Ireland reported a traveler forgot that his mother was with him and left without her.

Perhaps even odder are items left behind that someone probably shouldn’t have been traveling with in the first place. For instance, a man left behind snails in a Budapest hotel room. Maybe he was planning on asking the chef to cook him some escargot? Another guest, in a U.S. hotel, left behind $10,000 in cash.

Snails aren’t the only animal guests have left behind. A hotel in Washington discovered a customer had forgotten his snake, while a dog was left behind by its owner in a Milan hotel.

“You Want What?”: Bizarre Requests from Hotel Guests

Another big “oops”: a police officer forgot his gun and badge in Las Vegas. I guess what goes to Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Of course, more commonly left behind are cell phone, camera and laptop chargers. Passports are another oft-forgotten item.

Reading about what other people have forgotten in their hotel rooms got me to thinking, what kinds of stuff have I left behind?

I’ve been pretty lucky. The worst thing I’ve forgotten was a favorite pair of black evening pants (which I still miss very much, by the way). But I remember a time, back when I was a kid, when my family discovered on the drive home from New England that my sister had left behind her beloved stuffed duck, Engineer. I don’t know how far from the hotel we had gotten, but we turned right around to go back and get him.

Finding Hotel Rooms: No Vacancy? No Problem

Overall, the writers here at IndependentTraveler.com are pretty good about remembering to check their hotel rooms before leaving. But a few of us learned this the hard way.

Adam Coulter, the senior editor at the U.K. office of our sister site CruiseCritic.com, recently left behind his iPod speakers, an electric toothbrush charger, a hooded sweater, several T-shirts and his swimsuit at a hotel in New Jersey.

Another CruiseCritic.co.uk staffer, Jamey Bergman, and his wife left their laptop behind in a hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Luckily all turned out well as the hotel FedExed the computer to their final destination free of charge (though they still argue over whose fault it was).

What have you left behind in a hotel room?

– written by Dori Saltzman

beerI’m a teetotaler. My husband is a beer aficionado. This makes for some interesting travel planning. He’d be content to tour every brewery and stop in every pub. Me, not so much. But I love that he loves to experience different beers when traveling, so I try to find beer-related places we can both visit and enjoy wherever we can go.

The best beer experience we’ve had so far – and I’m pretty sure I speak for both of us on this one – was a tour of the Guinness Brewery in Ireland. Some of the highlights included the museum of Guinness advertisements throughout the years, and a learn-to-pour-the-perfect-pint instructional session.

I’ve recently been told that the brewery tour experiences at Heineken in Amsterdam and Sam Adams in Boston also are a lot of fun, so I’m putting them on our list of possible vacation destinations.

Here are three other beer experiences I’d be up for if ever the chance arises.

Beer Bathing
Apparently, the very same hops that are used for making beer also are good for one’s skin, at least according to some dozen spas in Germany and the Czech Republic that tout the rejuvenating and anti-toxin benefits of beer bathing. Since it takes very little arm-twisting to get me to a spa, I’m thinking an overnight visit to, say the Chodovar Brewery in the Czech Republic could be a great vacation stop for the both of us. There we could soak in a water and beer bath for two, and afterward he can have a drink while I get a massage.

How to Save Money on Food When You Travel

Beer Trails
While neither my husband nor I are regular hikers, we both enjoy the occasional hike when traveling. I’d venture a guess that one of my husband’s favorite parts of the hike is the cold beer when it’s over, so being able to stop at different points along a hike to enjoy a frosty brew would probably be heaven for him. And I wouldn’t mind stopping every so often to relax and take in the scenery, especially if that scenery consists of castles. That’s why the 13-kilometer beer trail in Franconian Switzerland in Germany would be the ideal place for us. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this area, made up of the city triangle of Bamberg, Bayreuth and Nuremberg, has the highest density of small breweries in the world. Since the trail can stretched out over the course of a couple of days, we could easily – and happily – combine hikes with beer breaks and castle visits.

Beer Festivals
I’m not sure if I’d ever want to venture to Germany during Oktoberfest, but I certainly don’t mind giving smaller beer festivals a go. In fact, I enjoy choosing beers that have funny names or weird sounding ingredients and asking my husband to try them. We’ve been to a few local beer festivals as well as one in Brasov, Romania (where we used to live), so I’m definitely up for the idea of incorporating a beer festival into our travel plans. One that might be interesting to visit would be the San Diego International Beer Festival, which takes place at the end of June and claims to offer a greater variety of beer than any U.S. festival west of Denver. Another one I’d love to attend is the Nottingham Robin Hood Beer Festival in England held in mid-October.

– written by Dori Saltzman

Ballybunion Castle RuinsEvery 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: In just a few weeks, airlines will have to include government taxes and fees when advertising ticket prices, in accordance with new U.S. Department of Transportation regulations that kick in on January 24. Some carriers, like Lufthansa and Air France, have already begun posting full-fare ticket prices online.

Aer Lingus is the latest airline to start displaying fares in a more truthful manner. The Irish carrier just announced that it will publish prices inclusive of all taxes and fees from this point forward. It’s quite refreshing to click around on a booking rate calendar and see numbers that are actually reflective of final ticket prices — especially when combing through already-low sale fares.

Rolling out all-inclusive rates along with this competitive sale, which offers across-the-pond flights for less than $500 roundtrip, was a smart move, Aer Lingus. The sale features discounted fares to Dublin from more than 30 U.S. cities, with roundtrip tickets starting at $447.91 (which would be a pretty good price even if it didn’t include the extra fees).

The Catch: These fares are valid for travel in January, February and March, which is Ireland’s low season for tourism. In some destinations on the isle, attractions, restaurants and hotels may be closed for winter; but this doesn’t mean you can’t plan a worthy Ireland getaway. Stick to big cities like Dublin, Belfast or Galway — which will offer a wider selection of year-round attractions than small towns — and contact local tourist information offices ahead of time to make sure that the places you want to see will be open.

The Competition: Lufthansa is also running a Europe winter fare sale; this one offers some nicely priced routes, as well as a wide selection of departure and destination gateways. Fares start at $507 roundtrip (that price is for a flight from New York to Dublin), including all taxes and fees.

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

– written by Caroline Costello

DublinEvery 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 (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: Save $400 ($200 per person) on Virgin Vacations’ low-priced Ireland escorted tour package, which bundles airfare, six nights’ accommodations, transportation and even meals into one convenient clump of an Irish adventure. The whole itinerary is preplanned. Travelers will start in Dublin (roundtrip airfare from select U.S. cities is included), and then travel by motorcoach to Waterford, Killarney, the Cliffs of Moher and Galway.

Prices start at $1,399 per person before the discount, bringing your package total to $1,199 plus taxes and fees after the $200 savings is subtracted. Taxes, which are additional, generally amount to about $96 per person. (Gratuities are extra as well.) We went through the booking process, used the promotion code and found that the final cost of the air-inclusive package came to $1,295.21 per traveler, departing from New York.

The Catch: This discount is only available for departures on November 19. You’ll need to pack something warm. Still, with the world economy in its current state, we’re growing fonder of the idea of cut-rate off-season travel. (Same experience. Lower price. Less sun.) Plus, the Irish make a mean hand-knit Aran sweater.

The Competition: Do package tours and motorcoach transfers make you want to burn your suitcase? (If you’re nodding, check out Eight Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours.) Aer Lingus is offering a discounted seven-day fly and drive package that combines roundtrip airfare and a car rental, but leaves the rest of the planning to you. Prices start at $729 per person plus taxes and fees for travel in September and October.

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

– written by Caroline Costello