Weird News: The Oddest Travel Stories of 2016

Between travelers paying to sleep in prisons and concentration camps, bringing ducks on planes, falling off cliffs while chasing Pokemon, and treating a floating log as a tourist attraction, 2016 was filled with its share of weird news. Below is a sampling of the many ways we found 2016 an odd year in travel.

guy on smartphone in mountains

Robotics are rapidly infiltrating the hotel industry, with a robot butler already bringing towels to guests in hotels in California. But the Henn Na hotel in Nagasaki, Japan, takes it to the extreme with a staff composed almost entirely of robots — and creepy robots at that. Appropriately, the property’s name transates to “Weird Hotel.”

The TSA’s Instagram account is a mind-bending tally of the stuff folks try to bring on planes, which range from life-size stuffed animals to shockingly realistic horror movie props, as well as piles and piles of weapons. This story highlights a few of the choicest attempts.

Who needs stinkin’ Instagram when you can make your own versions of the world’s most stunning destinations using an Etch A Sketch? Your gelato photos will never seem quite the same.

In Is This the Future of Hands-Free Luggage?, CNN profiles a bizarre new travel accessory: My Hitch, a gadget that allows you to hook your suitcase to your waistband so it will follow you wherever you go.

The massive popularity of Pokemon GO inspired many people to get out and about more; I even recommended it as a way to liven up a boring trip.

Unfortunately, some people livened up their trips so much that they fell off a cliff.

To be honest, it doesn’t take a distracted Pokemon player for tech to lead us astray; check out this story about the tourists whose GPS led them to drive into Venice’s pedestrian-only area.

Lost in Venice: One Wrong Turn, and You May Never Leave

Would you want to sleep in a room once used for torture? Or stay in a concentration camp turned into a resort? Or shack up next door to prison inmates?

Other lodging options in 2016 were equally chilling, but in a, well, cool way — like the igloo listed on Airbnb by an enterprising New Yorker who built it in a blizzard.

If you reacted too slowly to book a stay in the igloo before it melted, you could have stayed in a real-life re-creation of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of his bedroom; no longer available, it was offered for some true 19th-century prices: $10 per night.

Traveling in airplanes is as stressful as ever — unless you have an entire plane to yourself!

Failing your choice of 160 seats, perhaps an emotional support duck will help you get through your next flight.

Meanwhile, the continued “unbundling” of basic air travel amenities has created a new class of service, dismally dubbed “Misery Class.” (United’s version of basic economy does not provide access to overhead bin space or a promise that you’ll be able to sit beside your traveling companions.)

Given the overall state of the industry, when a Ryanair passenger was seen running after a plane on the tarmac, no one could have faulted you for thinking it was the zero-frills airline’s new boarding procedure. (Ryanair has contemplated having travelers stand up on flights, so running after a plane like you would after a bus might not be far behind.)

10,000 people can’t be wrong, I suppose, but suddenly I’m not hungry: 10,000 people on the waiting list to try London’s new naked restaurant.

crowded beach in spain

Things are getting out of control on European beaches. In Italy, authorities seized dozens of deck chairs and towels that were being used to reserve spots on busy beaches. In Spain, reserving a place on the beach could cost you hundreds in the so-called “umbrella wars.”

There are still places that are accessible and, well, interesting, if you want to get away from the masses. Maybe a former Soviet power plant, for example.

Even then, 80,000 people per year visit the hydro plant, and some of us want something a little more down to earth — and what could be more down to earth than a 120-year-old floating log? For me, there’s something about people’s embrace of a centenarian tree stump that makes it easier to look beyond robots and umbrella wars; if that log can keep its head above water, maybe we can too.

Don’t Miss Top Travel Tips — Sign Up for Our Newsletters

As for 2017, what could and will happen remains anyone’s guess — so as always…

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

You May Also Like
The Weirdest Travel News of 2015
16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel
The Most Awkward Moments in Travel
Tell Us About Your 2016 Trip!
The Best Travel Destinations for Every Month

Family Fun Activities at Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale

Family Fun Activities at Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale

Author: Jill Weinlein (More Trip Reviews by Jill Weinlein)
Date of Trip: November 2016

I knew the Hyatt Regency in the Gainey Ranch area of Scottsdale was family friendly, as soon as the front desk staff offered our daughter a choice of an apple flavored Capri Sun or bottle of water. Next, he asked if I would like a cactus cooler or bottle of water, as we checked in. It was a nice touch after driving four hours to Scottsdale.

hyatt regency scottsdale pool

Walking past the Native American Learning Center, we noticed a colorful Gingerbread Village being built for the holidays.

Reaching our room I remarked that this property has a Frank Lloyd Wright feel. Our standard room 2743 was located in a quiet section of the property with a big tree off our balcony, offering shade and privacy from the open grassy courtyard area.

The room offered two Queen size Hyatt Grand beds, a small balcony with two chairs, high speed internet, a marble bathroom with shower and Kenet MD bath amenities. There was an in-room safe, turndown service at night, small refrigerator and coffeemaker. Our room was clean and had recently been “refreshed” in decor.

hyatt regency scottsdale native americans

We donned our bathing suits and went out to explore the large resort. The centerpiece of the property is the high ceiling Center Stage Bar offering fabulous views and live nightly entertainment. As we walked through this area to go to the pools, we watched two Native Americans dressed in authentic outfits, sharing their culture and history through song and dance next to the Fountain Court.

We also discovered there are Casita homes overlooking a lovely lake bordering the resort. These casitas are ideal for families, with some located near the Fun Zone. Many offer stairs up to viewing deck for meals, reading or private sunbathing.

We also noticed in the evening, families riding in a gondola around the resort’s seven-acre lake. The boat driver sings in Italian while guests skim the shoreline and along the nearby golf course by boat. It’s a free ride if you dine at the resort’s Italian Alto Ristorante e bar. Otherwise, the ride costs $10 for adults and teens, $5 for kids 4-12, and free for children 3 and under.

hyatt regency scottsdale lake

Hyatt offers a Camp Hyatt Kachina children’s program with half day and full day sessions for ages 3 to 12 years old. On Fridays and Saturdays the program provides activities until 9 p.m. Parents can enroll their child in Camp Hyatt and go enjoy a relaxing, romantic dinner at one of the three themed restaurants.

DINING
Besides the fine dining Italian restaurant, there is a Southwest bistro serving wood-fired specialities and a Wine Me, Dine Me four-course dining experience in a demonstration kitchen. Each course can be paired with wine and tequila for a true Southwest experience. Nearby is a small sushi bar serving Japanese cuisine.

There is also a Canyon Market that is popular for a quick breakfast with pastries, oatmeal, fresh fruit and Starbucks coffee. It’s open 24 hours for snacks and casual meals.

hyatt regency scottsdale pool beach

POOL TIME
Families congregate around the 2.5 acre “water playground” with ten different swimming pools. There is a shallow sand beach pool with center float and fountain, an adult-only pool, and two poolside bars. Near the sand beach is a multi-level circular waterslide that is fun for adults and their children. This is a big waterslide, similar to one you would find in a water park.

The whirlpool is located in a Frank Lloyd Wright with Greek architecture area with elegant columns and a cascading waterfall streaming around the columns offering pleasing sounds.

FUN AND GAMES
The Family designed Fun Zone features golf clubs and balls to play at the beachside Putting Green. Sprinkled around this area is a shuffleboard court, giant chess and Jenga set. For an additional fee, families can climb a 28′ high rock climbing wall in this area.

SPA AND FITNESS
While the kids are at Camp Hyatt, adults can relax in the Spa Avania for a facial or massage in one of the 19 treatment rooms. What is unique at this spa is the Himalayan Salt Room providing overall wellness with its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. This area encourages clear skin, enhanced breathing, endurance and restfull sleep. Also, there are five Garden treatment rooms with their own private entrance, and an outdoor heated mineral pool. Before or after a treatment, relax near a lotus pond, shaded with a covered outdoor trellis. There is a state of the art exercise facility that is open 24 hours a day, and men and women’s locker areas. Comlimentary classes include morning Boot Camp, Yoga Core and Yoga Flow.

Southwest Trip Reviews
Send Us Your Trip Review!

9 Tips for Insanely Busy Travelers

Many frequent and hardcore travelers are extremely busy people. One type of traveler crams business and pleasure trips into single junkets. Another type corrals an entire family through an itinerary that would kill a hardy donkey, let alone an exhausted working parent. Another type micromanages their trip down to the minute such that they’re setting alarms at all times of day to keep themselves on schedule. And then there are those who are so busy they can barely find enough time to take their vacations, much less do all the nuts-and-bolts tasks of planning those vacations.

suitcase airport rush

Any of this sound familiar? We’ve compiled nine tips to make your trips more efficient and to meet the ultimate goal of any busy traveler: to get you there on time and with minimal hassle.

Before we get started here, let’s take a step back and think about slowing down. I appreciate that to do both of those (step back and slow down) at the same time might be tough for some of us, so grab the arms of your chair and take a deep breath first.

Okay.

It wasn’t so long ago that you had to take a boat to Europe. (Imagine Joe Linecutter dealing with that kind of pace.) Travelers in less hyper-developed countries will continue to experience maddening slowdowns and complete shutdowns; in the nation of the all-night CVS and the 24-hour ATM, some folks are shocked to hear “I’m sorry, sir, we’re closed.”

Time isn’t always going to bend to your will; for your own sanity, you’d better get used to it.

Okay, that’s enough deep breathing and slowing down for a weekday. Let’s put the hammer down and get back up to speed. Here come the tips:

This is the one key thing you can do to guarantee easier passage through security, tight connections, terminal shutdowns, backtracking planes, and other serious and mundane hazards of post-9/11 travel. It’s also the best way to avoid the many baggage fees that the airlines are now heaping on travelers who dare to bring more than a carry-on.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

Your favorite traveling clothes and accessories could cause slowdowns at airport security. Leave the jewelry at home, remove your piercings (if possible) and wear clothing that won’t hold you up at the checkpoint — like slip-on shoes, belts with plastic buckles instead of metal, and simple clothing that doesn’t require elaborate searching.

5 Things You Shouldn’t Wear on a Plane

A truly busy person has learned how to move projects around, make doctor’s appointments from the train platform, walk the dog while the coffee’s brewing. If you’re this kind of person, you’re probably only truly put out if you can’t get anything done at all. Thus, a couple of traveling items to help you cope with those all-too-frequent delays at the airport:

Program the phone numbers of your airline, car rental company, shuttle service and hotel into your cell phone. If you’ve got time to kill during a flight delay, you can make a few calls and provide your new ETA to anyone waiting for you at your destination. (For even more efficiency, check to see which other airlines also fly your itinerary and program their phone numbers in as well — that way if your original flight is delayed, you can start calling around for alternatives.)

Have a to-do list of productive things you can work on during delays. This might be a good time to read that chapter in your guidebook on the history of the place you’re visiting, or to sketch out a detailed itinerary for the first few days of your trip.

10 Things to Do Before You Travel

guy on laptop at pool

Some examples: Ask the front desk at the hotel to call you a cab, make a dinner reservation, or organize a tour or day trip. Book your airfare, hotel and car rental at a single website — or, if you don’t mind a little less customization, book an organized vacation package that includes accommodations, transportation, meals and sightseeing.

Vacation Package Deals

Following on from the previous tip, why not leave all the heavy lifting to someone else? Investing some time in finding a travel agent you can trust and communicate with will save you time (and maybe some money) over the long haul. Consider the difference between scouring countless websites for the best deal and itinerary, then making a purchase, then putting together your own travel itinerary versus placing one phone call or email to your travel agent — this could add up to hours of your life on every trip.

How to Find the Right Travel Agent

You’ll get on last on many airlines, granting you time to get more things done before boarding lockdown, and you’ll get off first. You can typically select your seat online at the time of booking or at check-in (sometimes for a fee) — this is the best way to guarantee yourself the seat you want.

Get the Best Airplane Seat

If you are responsible for returning your rental car with a full tank of gas, ask where the closest gas station is before you drive off the lot. This way you won’t be driving around searching for a station to fill your tank just before returning.

10 Things to Do in the First 24 Hours of Your Trip

If you’re the type of traveler that scribbles down a hasty packing list before every trip (and inevitably forgets some vital item each time), get organized by creating a single comprehensive packing list and saving it on your computer. Before each trip, customize the list as necessary and then print out a copy to refer to as you pack. Need help getting started? Use our Interactive Packing List.

I lump these together because we’ve gone over them endlessly at IndependentTraveler.com, but they’re always worth repeating:

Fly direct. Connections cost time; missed connections cost lots of time. Avoid layovers where you can.

Fly early in the day; there are fewer delays, cancellations and people in the airport.

Consider alternate airports. They’re less crowded and often better located than the big hubs, and they have fewer flights going in and out — reducing your chances of delays.

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

You May Also Like
16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster
Quiz: How Efficient a Traveler Are You?
18 Best Airport Hacks
Share Advice from Your Latest Trip
Get Our Best Travel Tips and Trip Ideas!

Stone Town Zanzibar; Truly Exotic!

Stone Town Zanzibar; Truly Exotic!

Author: Fiona Ludbrook (More Trip Reviews by Fiona Ludbrook)
Date of Trip: September 2013

Allow at least two days to experience as much of Stone Town, Zanzibar’s colourful, if crumbling capital, as extensively as possible.

stone town beach

Top of your list, should be a visit to the Palace Museum, (Beit- al Sahel). Here you will find magnificent antique Islamic and art deco furniture and architecture. For generations, it was home to the Aga Khan and his forbears. It is a celebration of the rich Arabic heritage of Zanzibar and its ruling family, with intricately carved detail, a harem section, incredible views over the harbour and burial sites of royal family members.

Across the road is the harbour and night market precinct, with glorious plantings. This is the place to sample the fabulous local cuisine at the many food stalls that set up on dusk. Nearby, are the docks and landing point for the Dar Es Salaam-Zanzibar ferry.

stone town bedroom

Hotel Tambo, my accomodation, could not have been more delightful, despite the fact it was “dry”, with a complete ban on alcohol. The Tambo occupies an old palace, close to the heart of the port, with all the great traditions of Islamic architecture: a central courtyard with a fountain, mosaics with glorious geometrical design and stylised representations of local flowers and animals. I was lucky to be given “suite Tambo”, a truly beachfront room, with glorious carved antique furniture, a traditional stone and mosaic bath and a balcony adjoining the beach. Little was I to know, just how sweet, my lively beachfront room would become during the course of my stay. Indeed, the very location and ever changing action on the beach, along with the most spectacular views of unique maritime gems, were to become the saving grace of my time in Stone Town.

The lively bar next door along the beach, meant the restrictions of my dry hotel, were pretty much annulled and the local food I tried reflected the legendary spice traditions of Zanzibar. The food is spicy, with emphasis on cloves yet subtle and delicious.

I had no intention of wasting my first afternoon. Conscious that Zanzibar was a conservative Muslim destination and I was a woman travelling solo, I donned a traditional hijab, much to the pleasure and surprise of the hotel staff and ventured to explore the local historic foreshore and port area. I was not hassled once and was treated with courtesy and respect by the local men, who offered me directions when I was having trouble locating one of the museums I was anxious to visit.

stone town dhow sunset

On my first evening I enjoyed a divine cruise on a traditional dhow, sailing boat. Views across to Turtle Island and along the heritage palaces and wharf were almost surreal, as we cruised into a glowing, tropical sunset. Watching the crew skilfully hoist the sails and manoeuvre the wooden dhow was a joy in its own right. I indulged in the glorious local seafood that was on offer during the cruise. My only mistake, as refrigeration was limited to an ice chest. The cruise was but one experience of almost stepping back in time, during my all too brief stay.

I recommend hiring a guide to enhance your exploration of the narrow, winding streets of Stone Town, so named for its buildings largely constructed of local stone. My own guide was full of information and truly enhanced my knowledge and experience of its unique heritage. He led me to different examples of doors that are a hallmark of the city, took me to the birthplace of Freddy Mercury, the slave market site, memorial and holding quarters, inside the Anglican Church, where tributes to David Livingstone, the missionary explorer and anti- slavery activist are also to be found. My guide also helped me negotiate the local markets, with no pressure to buy souvenirs.

stone town beachfront gymnast

Make sure you allow time for checking out Stone Town’s magnificent and lively beachfront, both in the evening and early morning, when local action is at its height. I particularly enjoyed watching a group of local gymnasts gather in the evenings, setting up a springboard improvised out of a couple of old tyres and launch themselves off and into the air, in a series of spectacular vaults. This nightly entertainment was free for all to enjoy. Dawn saw the beachfront taken over by small boat owners cleaning their vessels, an extraordinary array of boats carrying fishermen to sea on the outgoing tide, from the tiny, barely seaworthy rafts to huge traditional dhows. There were large families walking, with men leading their harem of women, joggers and swimmers with personal trainers and the workers, setting up the hotel lounges on the foreshore, or painstakingly sweeping the grounds with short brush brooms that necessitated bending. Turtle Island would briefly reveal itself for an hour or two, in all its glory, only to disappear again into the haze. Later in the day saw the tourists join locals, enjoying the water and views, a parade of hawkers selling local handcrafts and sunglasses, as well as the fleet of water taxis and pleasure boats, with captains touting for business. It was like living on an exquisite, exotic film set, only better. For a brief moment, I was included as a visiting “extra”. For the locals, this is their daily reality; to an outsider, breathtakingly beautiful!

If you are woman, be sure to dress modestly, so you are not offending the locals, who are largely conservative Muslims. Having done so, I received no negative attention from men and was treated with the utmost respect around the clock. Men too should avoid shorts or bare chests!

stone town spice

Allow a further day if you wish to undertake a spice farm tour, the national park or nearby turtle island.

I had planned on visiting a fishing village but due to ill health, had to cancel. This also left me with limited time to further indulge in the wonderful local cuisine, which remains a disappointment to this day!

stone town dhow

Tanzania Trip Reviews
Africa and Middle East Trip Reviews
Send Us Your Trip Review!

How to Pack for a Winter Vacation

If you read travel publications and trawl the web for packing tips, you can find millions of words of sometimes commonsensical, sometimes scolding and generally somewhat vague advice on how to pack for a winter vacation. Don’t pack too much stuff, dress in layers, pack a hat and gloves — but you know all that stuff already.

winter vacation travel car suitcases packed

To help convert general packing advice into a usable packing list, I have some tricks you can use to help figure out where to start. We’re not talking about packing for a ski trip — that is its own special challenge — but most travelers should find these winter travel packing tactics simple, straightforward and useful for a more general vacation.

Back when I used to go to concerts that weren’t scheduled on Saturday mornings at 11 a.m., I went to a LOT of concerts, year round, mostly in the northeastern U.S. Wearing bulky clothes into a music bar, concert hall or jazz club isn’t that different than doing the same on an airplane. I learned that a light fleece and a warm hat were all I needed to get from car to club, through the line and back again without freezing on a city street in February — the same goes for sprints through airports, short walks for breakfast in the morning cold and more. If you don’t want to freeze your bum off, wear a good hat.

Requirements for a good travel hat:

– Covers your ears

– At least partly covers the back of your neck

– Has no flaps, fluffballs or other wasted mass

– Is made of thin, modern materials for maximum warmth

There is nothing quite so brutal as a freezing cold noggin, so if you choose one item very carefully, make it your hat. Amazon offers numerous options, such as this Carhartt watch hat for men or this fleece cap for women.

Winter Travel Tips: What You Need to Know

Given that your feet are on the front line of most weather you will encounter, this is the one area that I recommend you be unafraid to go big. A solid, decent-looking pair of low-frills winter boots that you wear right onto the airplane will come through for you again and again during a winter trip.

Requirements for good winter travel shoes:

– Weatherproof — Gore-Tex gear can be pretty styling these days

– Light on lacing — you still need to get through security, so a pair of shoes or boots that can be worn loosely and don’t require a lot of tying and untying will help

– Dark colored, so they won’t show stains from mud, slush or getting thrown on filthy security belts

There are plenty of decent boots that hold up well enough to hike through snow in, but look good enough to wear to dinner; find them and wear them when you walk out the door for the airport. Examples include this option for women and this pair for men.

The days of massive mittens and wool gloves are gone, at least for smart travelers; you can get a great pair of warm, waterproof, yet very thin gloves that weigh only a few ounces and will take up only a few square inches of your luggage. The breathability makes them wearable across a wide temperature range, the waterproofing makes them useful in the worst weather, and the tight packaging makes them very low impact both when packing and when carrying them around.

I use Sealskinz Waterproof Gloves (available for men and women). They’re great for everything from taking photos in the predawn cold to making good, strong snowballs.

Requirements for travel gloves:

– Weatherproof

– Breathable

– Extremely light and low bulk

– Quick drying

– Have some type of grip

Between your hat, boots and gloves, your vulnerable extremities are covered.

8 Warm Winter Vacations: Escape the Cold

Almost every collection of tips on how to dress/pack/stay warm/etc. in winter includes advice to dress in layers — which sounds great, but how do you go about it? Where do you start, and where do you stop? Without a plan, you could layer yourself up until you look like the Michelin man. To get a handle on how to pick and choose from the clothes you already own, try this trick.

winter couple

When traveling during winter, use a “morning paper” approach to figure out what to pack:

– Light long- or short-sleeve shirt (or T-shirt) for reading the paper indoors

– Long-sleeve top over that for grabbing the paper from the stoop

– Fleece (or sweater, though wool tends to be bulky) over that for getting the paper from the curb

– Light wind- and waterproof outer shell over that for getting the paper from the curb in the rain

If you pack such that you can get the paper in any weather, and then add and remove items as you go in and out of doors, you will have enough and the right clothes to layer up for pretty much any weather you will encounter, indoors or out.

Don’t Miss Top Travel Tips — Sign Up for Our Newsletters

– Polarized sunglasses: Even weaker winter sunlight, when reflected off snow, can be rough on your eyes. In addition, the sun is lower in the sky, so is more likely to be in your line of sight or become a problem when driving during the short daylight hours. In those conditions, polarized glasses perform extremely well.

– Sunscreen: Sunscreen in winter? Absolutely. A windburn, or a sunburn from reflection off of snow or ice, is every bit a rival of a summer sunburn.

– Lower-body base layer: If you are going to be spending extended time outdoors, consider packing a base layer to keep your legs comfortable in the cold. They are harder to shed than a top layer, but don’t take up much packing space and are essential if you’ll be outside for hours at a time.

– In harsher weather, a scarf can be a small and light but very effective addition.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

I have an oversized black wool jacket that I would take around the world if it didn’t weigh about eight pounds and take up enough space to half-fill a suitcase. Every winter trip I look at it and think, yeah, it won’t be that bad if I carry it on … then I wise up.

The urge to pack your favorite stuff is a strong one; maybe look at those items last during the packing process, not first, and by then you will likely have made them unnecessary through your other, more logically considered choices.

Have any nuts-and-bolts winter packing tricks to add? Let us know in the comments.

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

You May Also Like
6 Reasons to Visit Europe in Winter
Quiz: Where Should You Travel This Winter?
The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing
Share Advice from Your Latest Trip
Must-Have Travel Items Suggested by Readers

Sinchi Warmi Amazon Lodge

Sinchi Warmi Amazon Lodge

Author: Patsy Smith (More Trip Reviews by Patsy Smith)
Date of Trip: November 2016

I discovered a very unique Amazon Lodge, Sinchi Warmi Amazon Lodge, this past week in Misahualli, Ecuador. The lodge is ran by an indigenous Quichua family. They offer all kinds of trips, events, demonstrations and presentations. I was able to see indigenous healing ceremonies, music and dance. They have presentations and hikes to tell about medicinal herbs or see how chocolate is grown and prepared and then each person is treated with a chocolate mask. There is fishing with cane poles, canoeing, tubing, visit to an outdoor indigenous museum and cruising the river in motorized canoes.

amazon jungle lodge

The people there were amazing and I had some wonderful food I had never tasted before like fried white chocolate seeds. On my first tour I had gotten bitten by fire ants and my legs were driving me crazy with the itching. One of the women treated my legs with coffee leaves and the itching stopped for the entire night. It was a great visit and I’m looking forward to when I can go back again.

amazon jungle lodge

Send Us Your Trip Review!

Winter Travel Tips

Successful winter travel is all about successful navigation of winter weather. We want all our readers to get to and from their destinations with minimum trouble and maximum enjoyment — and, most importantly, to always arrive safe and sound, no matter what sort of snow, ice, sleet or freezing rain you may encounter. To that end, here are some winter travel tips and tactics to help you avoid spending the season stuck in airports or on roadsides.

an older couple looking off into the distance wearing winter hats and scarves

1. I have found that the worst winter problems for travelers frequently occur at connecting airports. If your first outbound flight is canceled and you end up returning to your own home from your local airport, that’s one thing; if you are stuck in your vacation hotel hoping to get a flight home, that’s a bit worse. But when you’re stuck in a connecting airport in Texas calling hotels and praying for a place to stay, you’re in what we call yer worst-case scenario, pardner.

For this reason, you should fly nonstop whenever possible. To find nonstop flights, do all your initial flight searches with the “Nonstop Flights Only” button checked. If you also use search options like “Show Nearby Airports” and “My Dates Are Flexible,” you’ll have a very good sense of how best to get from Point A to B without Point C for Connection.

8 Warm Winter Vacations

2. If you absolutely must fly with a connection, watch your layover times carefully. If a weather delay causes you to miss your connection, you might be out of luck, as the airline is not necessarily obligated to find you a seat on the next flight, and often cannot logistically do so if flights are full or unavailable. If you have a really tight connection time and your flight is running late, let your flight attendant know, and he or she may be able to make arrangements to hold your next flight, or at least get you off your first flight quickly.

3. Again, if you must fly with a connection, check weather at your connecting cities as well as at your departure and destination airports. We all want to know what the weather is like for the departure and arrival airports (particularly if we’re traveling on vacation), but for the same reasons stated above you’ll want to know what is going on at your connecting airport as well. If the weather looks threatening, contact your airline to see if it can reroute you; it may be in its best interest to do so.

Your chances of getting on a different flight will be greatly enhanced if you’ve already done the research yourself to determine which alternate flights might work best. Don’t count on a gate agent to know about or search the schedules of other airlines.

4. Try to book your connection through a southern city where weather shouldn’t be an issue. There are no guarantees here, as northern airports tend to be better equipped to deal with winter conditions, and a snowstorm can almost wholly shut down an airport that more often suffers from too much sun. However, your odds are better in places that rarely see ice or snow.

5. Choose a morning flight, for two reasons: First, you are far less likely to have your flight affected by problems at other airports. Second, if your flight is canceled or badly delayed, your options for alternate flights are greatly increased, improving your odds for getting on a different flight by the end of the day.

Airport Delays: 6 Ways to Cope

6. Consider alternate airports. Very often the problem is not solely weather, but also the overall volume of passengers and flights. In places like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Houston, second-tier airports aren’t too far out of town and are tied into the transportation grid.

7. Get ahead of the game at security. Before you even get in line, put all your gear and spare coins into a pocket of your carry-on bag. With so much valuable stuff getting dumped into plastic bins all day, every day, it’s inevitable that some of that stuff gets left behind, dropped, damaged, broken or even stolen. If you take 15 seconds to stow everything, you’ll make the time up twice over on either side of the security gate, and won’t risk losing cell phones, wallets, keys and the like.

For more tips, see our Airport Security Q&A and 16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster.

8. The annual holiday gift wrapping rule: Don’t wrap gifts — security will have to rip them open. With the TSA searching checked bags as well as carry-ons, this applies to all of your luggage, not just what you bring onto the plane with you. Consider shipping your gifts ahead of time or wrapping them once you get to your destination.

9. Finally, avoid peak travel dates as best you can, particularly holiday weekends.

How to Pack for a Winter Vacation

1. Put some extra clothing and emergency items into your vehicle; these will come in handy if you break down in cold weather. It doesn’t take much — assemble a basic kit including a pair of gloves, weather-resistant pants and/or coat, maybe an old pair of boots, a blanket, jumper cables, a flashlight with some extra batteries, and a windshield scraper (and maybe a de-icer), and you should be in good shape. You might also toss a few nutrition bars in as well; those things won’t spoil until the next millennium, are packed with calories and can bail you out in a pinch.

snowy road

2. Make sure your car is checked over for winter weather readiness. In particular, you or a mechanic should inspect your tires before the first big winter storm.

Top 20 Safe Driving Tips

3. Once your vehicle is inspected and equipped, follow this advice we heard a while back from Montana’s snowplow drivers: “See and be seen. Keep your headlights and taillights clean, especially in stormy weather. Keep windows clean and make sure defrosters work well. If snow has built up on your vehicle overnight or after a break from driving, clear it away so it doesn’t blow off and obscure your windows.”

4. Slow down. The U.S. Department of Transportation recommends slowing down by about 50 percent in bad weather; additionally, leave extra space between you and the car in front of you.

5. Remember that not all stretches of road are created alike. For example, many recently built small bridges and overpasses have been designed to blend into the surroundings, with a gradual or nonexistent change in elevation. These bridges nonetheless remain susceptible to icing over much more rapidly than regular blacktop. Look out and look ahead for these short stretches of road when temperatures approach or drop below freezing. If you don’t know the ropes of driving on icy surfaces, read this primer on how to drive on black ice.

6. Some features of modern automobiles may actually serve you poorly in bad conditions. In some SUVs and four-wheel-drive vehicles, for example, you may have better traction when the vehicle is under way, but the four-wheel drive won’t help you stop any faster. Also, skip the cruise control; your cruise control feature may accelerate when you least want it to, such as when you are climbing an icy bridge.

Photos: 9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

7. Some safety experts recommend putting a bag of kitty litter in the trunk, both for added ballast to offer better traction, and to put under the wheels if you need to get yourself out of a slippery spot.

8. If you are stranded and have to stay in your car, you can run the engine for heat, but make sure the exhaust pipe is not obstructed by snow or mud. If you prefer not to have the engine running the whole time, close the windows to keep heat in, and run the car for 10 minutes every hour, cracking open a front window when you do so.

9. If you are parking at your hotel or near attractions in bad weather, opt for a spot in an indoor parking garage when available.

For more tips and tactics this winter, see our guide to Foul Weather Travel.

We hope these tips help you, and may you never need to travel where the sun doesn’t shine!

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

You May Also Like
Quiz: Where Should You Travel This Winter?
5 Things Not to Wear on a Plane
6 Lies Your Hotel Might Tell You
Share Advice from Your Latest Trip
Get Our Best Travel Tips and Trip Ideas!

5 Fun Pismo Beach Experiences

5 Fun Pismo Beach Experiences

Author: Jill Weinlein (More Trip Reviews by Jill Weinlein)
Date of Trip: November 2016

Pismo Beach offers a variety of family fun adventures for those driving up Highway 1 along the Pacific Ocean from Southern to Northern California.

Checking into the Cottage Inn By The Sea it offers charming curb appeal, similar to the properties in Carmel, CA with an English Countryside design.

The oceanfront location has renovated rooms with some facing the Pacific Ocean. Inside the cozy lobby is a dining room that offers complimentary breakfast to guests in the morning starting at 7 a.m. In the evenings, guests sit at tables with food picked up or delivered from nearby restaurants. There is a large wall Scrabble board and board games for families to play together in this large room.

Our room 217 offered two queen size beds, a gas burning fireplace, complimentary wi-fi, flat screen television, wall safe, and shower/tub combination. With two windows our view was of two different parking lots, one in the front and one in the back. Next time I would request an oceanfront room. This property is located next to Highway 1 and the sound level can be loud. I recommend bringing earplugs. Also, our room didn’t have air-conditioning, so opening a window to let the cool sea air in, also allowed the sound of cars and trucks in. The oceanfront rooms offer sea breezes with the lulling sound of ocean waves in.

What I liked about this motor lodge was the small pool and hot tub, fire pit conversation areas along the ocean view bluff, and pathway leading to a wooden stairway to the expansive sandy beach.

Before walking on the beach in the morning, we enjoyed a breakfast of coffee, baked goods, hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, fresh and canned fruit cocktail.

Walking down the stairs towards the Pismo Beach pier, we collected seashells before walking out to the end and watching the surfers. Afterwards, we explored the small town of Pismo filled with a variety of surf shops, cafes, and boutiques.

Walking back to The Cottage Inn By The Sea, we saw pods of dolphins jumping into the air and splashing back into the ocean, while flocks of pelicans and other sea birds flew overhead.

Checking out of The Cottage Inn By The Sea, we first drove south of Pismo Beach is the Monarch Butterfly Cove. It’s open from late October through the month of February. This area houses the largest colony of butterflies with an average of 25,000 clustered in the limbs of Eucalyptus trees. For some reason, these Monarchs have a lifespan of up to six months, while most Monarch varieties live only six weeks. This area offers docents, a gift shop and educational signs.

Nearby is the Oceano Dunes, where visitors can pay $5 to drive five miles on the hard sand beach along the water’s edge. This is a popular spot with RV owners and ATV riders. Stop your car to climb up the vast array of sand dunes offering Pacific Ocean views from Avila Beach to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Within is fifteen minute drive is Avila Beach and the Avila Valley Farm with farm animals, a fresh fruit and vegetable stand, sweet shoppe filled with candy treats, tractor and pony rides on the weekend. Inside the produce stand there is a basket of lettuce in a plastic bag to purchase for $1 and hand feed the farm animals. They also have a cafe selling hot dogs, sandwiches and barbecue.

About five miles away along See Canyon is the Gopher Glen Apple Farm set among oak, sycamore and maple trees. The farm has a variety of 100 year old apple trees that grow Fuji apples, Jonadelicious, Pippin Granny Smith and Pink Ladies. Visitors can purchase a cup of hot apple cider, or go to the refrigerator section for quarts and half gallon jugs. There is a apple tasting counter inside the gift shop, where you can purchase a bag of apples by the pound. It’s a good stop before heading back home to to a new travel destination.

Send Us Your Trip Review!

Money-Saving Travel Tips for 2017 and Beyond

Guided by big data and sophisticated algorithms, large travel suppliers are increasingly able to control pricing by the second; as a result, many previously reliable money-saving tactics have lost some punch.

woman on laptop booking a flight

One example is the way many travelers used to stockpile miles over time in order to splurge on big vacation trips, finding free flights and upgrades easily if they booked far enough in advance. Of late, the airlines are much more savvy (and stingy) about allocating seats for reward travel, and are also changing the way miles are earned, making it harder than ever to use your miles to get a seat on the plane.

It’s not just the old tricks that are fading away; even some Web 2.0 tactics are disappearing. How about this one: Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” service — the feature that pretty much defined the brand — is no longer available for airfares, having been discontinued in September 2016.

As travel provider tactics evolve, so must yours if you hope to make your trips more affordable. Here are some money-saving travel tips that you can lean on in the year ahead.

Travelers in the 21st century depend heavily on Wi-Fi, but costs range from $10 – $15 per day at many hotels. To make matters worse, some properties charge per device, or impose fees if you want a faster connection.

There are a few ways to avoid these extra charges.

At properties that charge per device, you can connect with your laptop and then share the connection with your phone, your spouse’s phone, your kid’s tablet, etc. There are a bunch of different methods and products to help you do this, and it sometimes takes a bit of advance planning. Here’s a primer.

If you are not traveling with a laptop, you can turn your phone into a mobile hotspot and simply connect to the internet via your cellular connection; note, however, that this will add to the price of your cellphone bill. It can be worth the money if you need this kind of access frequently and in a variety of situations.

The simplest and least tech-heavy approach is to join the hotel’s loyalty program. Many chains offer complimentary Wi-Fi to their loyalty members as a benefit of signing up, so you won’t need to accumulate points or stays before you qualify. You might have to ask specifically for the benefit to be applied at check-in or by calling the front desk; I have found that booking a hotel through your loyalty program does not always automatically “turn on” all the benefits of membership.

9 Ways to Make Your Hotel Room More Comfortable

On a recent trip to a wedding in Jacksonville, Florida, I was having trouble finding affordable and convenient flights from the three airports within an hour of my home. The cheapest options I found were at terrible times — a 6 a.m. flight with a 10-year-old is just wrong — and the flights at better times cost hundreds of dollars more.

The solution: Purchase one-way tickets departing from one airport and returning to another, and use a car-sharing service to get to and from each one. This avoids the obvious problem of stranding your car at your departure airport and then having to figure out a way to get it after you get home. And ridesharing apps are much more affordable than taxis or car services in most places.

In the end, I paid $75 for the two car rides (one using Uber, one using Lyft), but saved about $450 on flights that fit our schedule. That, and we got door-to-door service at both ends of a short, packed trip. Admittedly, this strategy took a bit more research and time, but I had already lost most of that time staring at flights that didn’t work, so the additional hassle was minimal.

Even if you don’t have multiple airports near your home, you can try this tactic at your destination as well. You might fly into LAX and out of Long Beach, or mix and match among London’s numerous airports.

man with phone hailing an Uber

While you’re at it, you might want to price out using car-sharing services as a replacement for a car rental entirely. Unless you will be driving a lot, the cost can be similar or even less after you consider the cost of gasoline, parking, insurance (and the risk of claims), taxes and fees.

One area where you can really save is at your hotel, particularly if you’re staying in a downtown location. For the wedding we went to in Jacksonville, we paid $20 a night to park our rental car. Meanwhile, an Uber ride from the airport would have been about $13 each way.

Additionally, using a ridesharing service saves you the hassle of picking up and returning a rental car, including waiting in lines, resisting rental counter upsells, finding a gas station to fill the tank and getting lost trying to find the car rental office in a maze of airport ring roads.

The Best Uber Alternatives Around the World

Even hardcore mileage experts are bearish on airline miles these days; it seems like every few months the airlines devalue our hard-earned miles a little more, and some veteran travelers are moving on from chasing miles.

Credit card points, however, are a different story. Some cards will outright refund travel expenses after your trip is completed; you merely log on to your credit card’s website, choose Redeem Travel Purchases, and the credit card uses your points to issue a refund up to the value of your points.

I have also written in the past about focusing on hotel points rather than airline miles. For now this is still a decent tactic, although it only works if you book directly with the hotel. Use your points while you can!

How to Choose the Best Travel Credit Card

If you’re having trouble finding reward flights to top tourist destinations, you may do better searching less popular routes. I used miles to book a round trip to Cleveland for a memorial service just a few weeks ago, and did the same for my hotel booking. Set your sights on less popular and/or off-season destinations, and you might have a similar success rate.

Most of our readers know about alternative lodging sites like Airbnb and VRBO, but many of us peg such services for bookings during vacations, and not for more focused trips such as family visits or business travel.

This is changing quickly; Airbnb is giving traditional hotels a run for their money, with even corporate travelers giving it a try. Airbnb is encouraging the trend with a newly instituted “Business Travel Ready” designation on many listings.

Seeking out alternative lodging can be especially effective when you are booking in a very popular destination or during a big event around which hotel bookings become scarce and expensive. It’s also a good bet when traveling with larger groups, as you can search for lodging that is large enough to sleep larger numbers of people than even the biggest hotel rooms can accommodate, typically at very reasonable prices.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

U.S. travelers haven’t always been able to lean on the strength of the dollar to stretch their funds while traveling overseas, but that’s the reality right now. You can get more for your money in places like the post-Brexit United Kingdom, post-Olympics Brazil, Mexico and others. Check out a full list here.

The tourist industry’s presence on the web (and in apps on your phone) is mature and advanced, and searches for “free things to do” will be successful almost anywhere you want to go. Often these searches take you to the very best a place has to offer — parks, beautiful open spaces, even top attractions.

All airlines are required to refund any booking in full if canceled within 24 hours of booking, and I have found this a great help when I need to purchase an airfare but am pressed for time to apply some of the price comparison tactics mentioned above. When in this spot, go ahead and book the best flight you can find at the time, and then when you have more time, finish up your research and cancel the standing booking if you find something better.

Don’t Miss Top Travel Tips — Sign Up for Our Newsletters

Saving money on travel isn’t getting any easier, but if you keep up with the changing times and technology, you can still have some money left in the bank when you hit the road. If you have any 21st-century tactics that I missed, let us know in the comments below!

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

You May Also Like
The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas
16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel
10 Travel Money Mistakes to Avoid
Tell Us About Your Latest Trip!
9 Creative Ways to Save for a Vacation

Freshwater fun in Lake Erie’s Presque Isle State Park

Freshwater fun in Lake Erie’s Presque Isle State Park

Author: Jen Lucas (More Trip Reviews by Jen Lucas)
Date of Trip: November 2016

The mini-tribe and I were ready for an out of town excursion but only had 48 hours to accomplish such so I decided to pack up and head due north to Erie, Pennsylvania. Erie, home to the Great Lake Erie and Presque Isle State Park, is approximately 2 hours north of Pittsburgh.

presque isle kids running on beach

As my children were born at the beach and we all are extremely fond of water, I figured this would be a great opportunity for them to see and learn about freshwater habitats and wildlife. Avid fishermen frequent Erie Pennsylvania, as the streams in the Lake Erie Watershed are renowned for their steelhead fishing. We are less fishing aficionados and more so fans of an indoor water park in the area, Splash Lagoon, so made that our first stop.

Splash Lagoon, located in Erie, is a huge indoor complex housing nine water slides with varying levels of intensity, a lazy river, a kid and separate adult hot tubs, wave pool, baby pool and tree tops rope course. You can spend several hours in the facility and not be bored which is a plus since the admission fees are hefty but justified. I decided to go after 4pm for the discounted rate, which gave us plenty of time to play, as they are open until 9pm on Saturday’s.

Also on premises is an arcade, laser tag rooms and several dining locations to choose from as well as adult beverage options. With lodging attached to Splash Lagoon, many choose to stay on site however I chose to stay closer to Presque Isle.

After many hours of chlorine-filled fun and the exhaustion that followed, we headed to our home for the evening, the Riviera Motel. While there are many great accommodation options, we were going for budget friendly, in the best location and this motel comes highly recommended from my aunt who frequents there. The Riviera is very kind to your wallet with several bars and restaurants either in walking distance or a very short drive and is minutes from Presque Isle. The rooms are extremely clean although décor is quite outdated but offered everything we needed for the 12 hours stint we’d be there, comfy beds, shower, TV, mini-fridge, and coffee maker.

aerial view of presque isle

The following day we found a great little spot to eat breakfast minutes from the motel, Avanti’s. With an Italian-inspired menu and décor including 50s era murals on the wall and of course tons of family photos, I knew the food would be delicious and the atmosphere kind and welcoming. A small place with a decent sized menu and great prices, Avanti’s offers breakfast and lunch starting at 5:30am-3pm.

We then headed towards Presque Isle to enjoy the sun and sand even though the fall temperatures were brisk, the kids didn’t mind and I’m always up for being in nature so we didn’t blink an eye.

Presque Isle State is a 3,112-acre Pennsylvania state park on an arching, sandy peninsula that juts into Lake Erie. The peninsula has 13 miles of roads, 21 miles of recreational trails, 13 beaches for swimming, and a marina. After driving several miles, in true kid fashion, someone needed to use the bathroom so we stopped at a building, which ended up being at a super cool beach that we decided to explore. After spending their first few years living a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean, my kids are extremely fond of the water, sand and waves so this to them was equivalent.

presque isle beach

It was time to leave as their little feet had to be close to frozen after frolicking in the waves so we drove back down the peninsula, stopping at the Perry Monument/lighthouse, watching a few families fishing in one of the many waterways and then onto the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. I wanted my children to experience freshwater wildlife as they’ve seen plenty of aquariums, sharks, dolphins jumping waves, kelp that washed ashore, etc. but are less exposed to freshwater fish and plants so this was the perfect place to explore next.

The Tom Ridge Environmental Center is an educational center dedicated to teaching visitors about Presque Isle and the many different forms of life that inhabit the peninsula. It also serves as a center for research, contributing to conservation efforts and promoting environmental awareness, helping to preserve Presque Isle. The center is open year-round and offers free admission to interactive exhibits, glass-enclosed tower, and an orientation movie.

Although I’ve visited the area many times, it’s always exciting to return to these places dear to our hearts, especially when so close to home and accessible. The kids had a ton of fun so we’ll definitely be returning post-winter unless we feel the urge to try out ice fishing (highly doubtful).

Mid-Atlantic Trip Reviews
Send Us Your Trip Review!