Explore. Experience. Engage.

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

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

steering wheel speeding car blurWhen it comes to driving, are you a slow-lane sort of person, or do you immediately head to the left and make everyone else eat your dust?

Now comes word that Maine is about to become the only state east of the Mississippi River to legalize a 75-mile-an-hour speed limit. Starting Tuesday, October 4, locals and travelers heading to Canada can take advantage of the power boost on a lonely stretch of Interstate 95 in the far northern reaches of the state, from Old Town to Houlton.

According to a Reuters report, the 110-mile stretch of asphalt “could handle the increase from an engineering standpoint, and … studies showed most people were already driving comfortably at 74 to 75 miles per hour there.”

The 8 Best U.S. Road Trips

While Maine may be the first Eastern state to okay a 75 m.p.h. speed limit, it’s not a ground-breaker. A number of Western states also top out at 75 m.p.h., while Texas allows 85 m.p.h. on some segments.

The legislation, which flew through the Maine legislature, was introduced by Representative Alexander Willette, who said that his constituents had been nagging him about making the change. “Their main reasoning is, everyone is traveling 75 anyway and they are already not getting pulled over,” he told Reuters. “Why not make it official?”

I’ll tell you why not: If you can tell people they can go 75, then they’ll go 85. I’ve driven through that area a number of times, and I agree it’s a long, straight, boring haul. But if people weren’t routinely getting pulled over, why give them the (indirect) license to go faster? Does anyone really think that 85 or 90 m.p.h. won’t now be the norm?

Enter the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Anne Fleming, who holds the same view. As she told the Associated Press: “People do pay attention to speed limits. Whatever they’re flying along at, whenever they raise the speed limit, they fly along faster.” Furthermore, she said higher speeds often lead to more (and worse) accidents.

So what do you think? Vote in our poll or speak up in the comments.

— written by John Deiner

Boats in Perkins Cove, MaineEvery 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: Labor Day has come and gone, and right now, shoulder-season deals to destinations like Hawaii, the Caribbean and Europe are easy pickin’s. But if you’d like to visit a place that shows its best colors this time of year, you don’t necessarily have to pay high-season prices. We spotted this excellent high-season deal for one of the United States’ great fall destinations: Maine.

For a limited time, Orbitz is offering $50 off Maine hotel stays in addition to up to 30 percent off accommodations and free-night stays at participating properties in the Pine Tree State. This offer is valid for three-night (or longer) stays through mid-October.

Essential Portland, Maine Travel Guide

The Catch: Since it’s currently high season for travel to Maine, rooms at the more popular properties are filling up fast — especially if they’re on sale; a quick search on Orbitz confirmed this. According to the Orbitz Web site, Acadia Inn, one of the hotels featured in this offer, only had three available rooms left for the dates I punched in (September 15 through 17). Likewise, Orbitz told me only two available rooms remained at the Majestic Regency in Wells, another cut-rate property, for the same dates. Act fast if you’re thinking about snapping up this offer.

The Competition: A smart way to visit Maine on the cheap is to grab a last-minute New England cruise deal. Right now, we list several discounted leaf-peeping sailings in our Cruise Deals, including a seven-night early-October New England and Canada cruise for $649 with prepaid gratuities, and a similar late-October sailing for just $549. Both cruises sail roundtrip from Boston, and both include stops in Maine.

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

— written by Caroline Costello

In honor of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, let’s take a peek at some of the places where the guys who run the country kick back and, um, clear some brush (I’m still not exactly sure what that means).

Regardless of how they choose to spend their vacation time, the leaders of the free world, it seems, have a knack for finding the most gorgeous corners of the country in which to retreat from life in the White House. With a sky’s-the-limit budget and a team of assistants, finding the perfect place to get away probably isn’t too challenging for a commander in chief. But for those of us who do our own trip planning, the presidents’ array of amazing vacation spots can provide some excellent summer travel ideas. Here are four of our favorite presidential destinations, with suggestions for planning your own stately retreat:

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

This summer, the Obamas are once again jetting to Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island freckled with sheep, apple orchards and seafood shacks (the Obamas have spent previous summer stays here). The island’s pastoral, timeworn character belies its status as a travel destination for the most stalwart power circles. The Obamas are in solid Democratic company: Previous presidential Martha’s Vineyard vacationers include the Clintons and the Kennedys.

The Obamas are returning to Blue Heron Farm, a 28-acre estate that overlooks the water. According to ABC News, “Tom Wallace, of Wallace and Company Sotheby’s International Realty, said the property, which is home to a five-bedroom main house, also features a Cape Cod guest house, a swimming pool and a half-court basketball court. The Obamas will have their pick of activities on the property, ranging from kayaking on the West Tisbury Great Pond to a simple game of horseshoes.”

A Vacation for the Rest of Us: Martha’s Vineyard has a handful of Victorian B&B’s that ooze New England charm and, most importantly, offer reasonable rates for those of us without security details and private planes. We like the Oak Bluffs Inn, a 19th-century home with wicker rocking chairs on the porch and a cool polygonal tower. Rates start at $225 per night for the summer season.

martha's vineyard

Kennebunkport, Maine

In the quiet seaside town of Kennebunkport sits the famed Bush Compound, the vacation spot to which George and George W.’s family members have been returning for generations. I guess it’s called a “compound” due to the prevalence of suited security guys in dark shades — there’s a checkpoint on the road leading to the entrance — but I think “estate” or “mansion” sounds like a less frightening place to take one’s summer break. The compound was originally known as Walker’s Point Estate when it was constructed at the turn of the century. The expansive property features a four-car garage, a pool, a boathouse, tennis courts and a nine-bedroom main house.

A Vacation for the Rest of Us: Like Martha’s Vineyard, Kennebunkport offers plenty of Victorian B&B’s (it’s a New England thing). The Captain Lord Mansion, a popular B&B, has, without a doubt, the best name for a New England inn that I’ve heard yet. Built in 1812, the inn features lavishly appointed rooms with canopy beds and fireplaces, with summer rates starting at $239 per night.

bush compound

Santa Barbara, California
During his term as president, Ronald Reagan would often retreat to Rancho del Cielo in Santa Barbara, where he spent his time clearing brush, chopping wood and heroically riding around on horses. There’s something, well, sort of paradoxical about traveling to a multi-million-dollar ranch to partake in brush clearing. But hey — that’s what the Gipper liked to do.

The ranch spans 688 acres and provides views of the Santa Ynez Valley and the Pacific Ocean. Amenities include a quirky mix of the rustic and stately: There’s a helipad, a Secret Service command post (the only federal building remaining on the property), a hay barn, and pastures with cows and horses.

Rancho del Cielo

A Vacation for the Rest of Us:
Students who participate in Reagan Ranch programs and members of the Young America’s Foundation’s President’s Club are eligible to visit the ranch by appointment. Is this you? No? Then we recommend a stay at the Santa Ynez Inn, a convenient hub for exploring the region’s vineyards, art galleries and horse ranches. Rates start at $218.33 per night during summer, but the inn also offers various cycling tour and golf packages for bargain prices.

Key Biscayne, Florida
Ah, the beautiful Florida Keys. Nixon may have had a penchant for political sabotage, but he certainly had fine taste in vacation homes. Known as the “Florida White House,” Nixon’s Key Biscayne retreat provided a tropical waterfront escape for the 37th president of the U.S. The compound (there’s that word again) featured six bedrooms, eight bathrooms and oodles of ocean views — but it was razed in 2004 and replaced with a new home. Today, Key Biscayne’s claim to fame is that Nixon once relaxed by the ocean (and occasionally consorted with certain Florida businessmen) on its shores.

A Vacation for the Rest of Us: Key Biscayne is a tiny island close to Miami, where lovely beaches and the occasional Cuban restaurant are the main attractions. There’s a Ritz-Carlton on the key, where rates range from $300 to $1,000-plus per night. For the budget minded among us, Silver Sands Resort offers a cool blue pool and beachfront digs with off-season summer rates starting at $129.

Key Biscayne

— written by Caroline Costello

The Inn on CarletonWe have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is $195. Teresa Gotay was the first person to submit the right answer. She has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The room pictured in Friday’s post is Room Three at The Inn on Carleton in Portland, Maine. Rates for this room, which includes a king-size bed, garden views and a private bathroom with a new shower, range from $120 to $195 per night, depending on the season. The Inn, which is currently rated number one out of Portland B&B’s and inns on TripAdvisor, claims to be the oldest established B&B in the city. Read more about The Inn on Carleton in Portland, Maine Essentials.

Check back on Friday for another shot at winning a prize!

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc.

— written by Caroline Costello

Every Monday, we’ll post the answer to the previous week’s Photo Friday quiz. Play along with future photo guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).

The correct answer to last Friday’s photo guessing game is Acadia National Park, Maine! Pictured is Jordan Pond, one of the most popular areas of the park. Hikers can walk the easy 3.2-mile loop around the pond before rewarding themselves with the famous buttery popovers at Jordan Pond House, the park’s only restaurant. Learn more about Acadia in The 10 Best National Parks.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

boston fall New England and Canada are immensely popular autumn destinations — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t fall deals to be found in these parts of the world. You just have to know where to look. We did some travel deal detective work and unearthed several exceptional bargains in harvest-time havens from Maine to Montreal. Travelers can look forward to blazing foliage, crisp autumn weather and fun fall festivals when visiting these regions in September and October.

Third Night Free on Maine’s Coast
This October, get a free night’s stay at Cedarholm Garden Bay Inn, an oceanfront property located in the Camden, Maine area. The inn’s guest cottages, which start at $225 per night, all have private decks overlooking the water. Guests wake up to a complimentary Continental breakfast served each morning.

7-Night Canada/New England Cruise from $549
Pay less than $80 per night — that’s roughly half off standard fares — for a week-long Caribbean Princess cruise sailing roundtrip from New York on September 18. This leaf-peeping cruise stops in scenic ports including Halifax, Bar Harbor and Newport.

Save 25% in Montreal
Receive 25 percent off weekend stays at the Hotel Omni Mount-Royal, a centrally located Montreal hotel set in the city’s popular Golden Square Mile neighborhood. Discounted nightly rates start at $104.25 CAD for travel before December 30.

U.S. Fares from $44 OW
AirTran‘s latest systemwide sale includes low-priced flights to fabulous fall destinations like Boston; Portland, Maine; Rochester; and Buffalo. These sale fares are valid for travel through mid-December, and must be booked by August 24.

Save 25% on Northeast Regional Train Travel
Travelers departing from New York, Washington D.C., Boston and Philadelphia can get discounted Amtrak tickets to lovely New England towns like Providence, New Haven and Stamford. Discounted tickets start at just $10 each way when booked 14 days in advance.

Save 30% on Boston Hotels
For a limited time, travelers heading to Beantown this autumn can take advantage of reduced rates at dozens of local hotels. Book with Hotels.com by August 30 and save up to 40 percent on accommodations in Boston. This deal features nightly rates as cheap as $58 (for the Westgate Hotel and Conference Center), plus discounts at upscale properties including the Copley Square Hotel and the Langham, Boston.

Find more bargains in our Discount Travel Deals.

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc, which also owns Hotels.com.