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April 2009

April 30, 2009

Applications We Like: Facebook's Where I've Been

By Ben Sumner

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WhereivebeenfacebookWHERE NEXT?: Facebook's Where I've Been application

Facebook users have been blessed (or cursed) with many applications, such as quizzes that tell us which Muppet we most resemble to apps that broadcast our favorite professional wrestlers. While knowing these things about your friends and yourself is amusing at best, there's one (and only one) application I've used on Facebook that rises above the rest, and that's the Where I've Been application.

Sure, we know which cities and countries we've been to, where we've lived, and where we want to go, but we finally have a program that helps us keep track, and lays it out visually on an interactive map for us. The tedious part (or fun part, depending on how you look at it), is initially filling out the information, as you remember the distant cities your parents dragged you to for your great aunt's funeral or that road trip through the Canadian Rockies, to the exotic vacations you took as an adult. Then Where I've Been tells you what percent of the world you've been to. You can also include places you have lived and places that you want to go. And what's more fun than traveling to a new place and updating the list?

When you're all finished, you can compare your map to your closest 350 friends (or however many you have) and you can say I didn't know that Hugh from band camp lived in Tunisia. You get the point.

So, while Facebook will always be a forum for broadcasting your top celebrity crushes to telling everyone your dinner plans, Where I've Been is one Facebook application that's essential for organizing your perpetual wanderlust. is now on Facebook!  Become a fan today and get updates about latest articles and photo galleries, seasonal travel ideas, and contests!

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Airlines Ease Reticketing Restrictions for Mexico Travel

By Kate Chandler

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The swine flu outbreak has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that U.S. citizens avoid all non-essential travel to Mexico. Most major airlines have eased their otherwise-strict reticketing policies in the face of this threat. Orbitz has pulled together links to major airlines' policies on reticketing to Mexico, a useful resource for those of you who already have tickets booked. Happy travels (just maybe not to Mexico right now).

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Related Topics: Air Travel · Mexico Travel · Travel News

April 28, 2009

My Top Five Surprises About Miami

By Karen Chen

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Miami Beach, surprisingly devoid of other people (Karen Chen)

For some reason (wait, I know why—it's portrayed this way in all of popular media) I imagined Miami to be the East Coast equivalent of Las Vegas, minus casinos, plus the beach: a celebrity playground with lots of bright lights, and people throwing money around as if it was chump change.  But I was in Miami this past week and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there: a convenient beach locale not very far from home with beautiful public beaches, decent dining options, cool art spots, and an interesting "scene"—all for a rather affordable price, which equal the right ingredients for a good beach vacation if you ask me.  Here are some of the nice surprises I found when I visited Miami:

1. The beaches there are awesome.  Granted, they might not compare to the "most secluded" or "most exotic" slices of heaven they call beaches in the Caribbean or the Pacific Islands, but for a place you can get to for about $160 round trip, they aren't bad.  In fact, they're better than just "not bad": The soft, nearly-white sand is edged by clear, bright teal Atlantic waters. For families, or people who aren't as fond of the ocean as they are of the beach, the warm shallow tide is perfect to play around in, and you don't have to worry about cutting your feet on rocks, coral, twigs, or other debris (not to mention the absence of sea critters that have always contributed to my fear of the deep blue). A nice cooling sea breeze also keeps you from roasting in the sun—though I can't say the same would be true come summer.

Continue reading "My Top Five Surprises About Miami" »

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Budget Travel · Florida Vacation · Food and Drink

April 24, 2009

Sites We Like:, a New Player in the Bus Wars


The East Coast bus wars just found their Switzerland:, a new website that combs through discount fares on a dozen of the big bus lines that ply the major routes between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston (as well as further west in hubs like Cleveland, Buffalo, Chicago). As founder Matthew Keller told us in an email, "We think it's a lot like, but for bus tickets." Well put, and like, its secret lies in its simplicity. Plug in your desired route and date, and the results page outputs your options in a cleanly designed interface that lists price, departure time, journey duration, and whether or not the bus has add-ons like WiFi or power outlets. As a test, we plugged in a last-minute escape to NYC from D.C. for tonight and got a fare on MegaBus for $19; you can search further out (up to six weeks) and score fares for as little as $5. The site launched on April 8 and is still in beta mode but we like what we see so far (it would be nice to be able to search on round trips instead of just the existing one-way option, but we suspect that's in the pipeline). Of course, while we can vouch for the middleman, we won't speak to the variable quality of service on some of those bus lines once you hit the road. Note that bookings are made on the bus lines' websites, so no worries there regarding credit-card security or ticket authenticity.

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · Travel Websites

April 23, 2009

Putumayo Kids to Release European Playground CD

Putumayo Music

Here at we are firm believers that music is one of the best ways to really immerse yourself in a locale. From the jazz of New Orleans to the samba and bossa nova beats of Brazil, it's an art form that hurdles language barriers, communicating the essence of a place as quickly as the opening notes of an iconic tune. And for children, music can become an instant passport to other worlds—without the hassles of airfare, terminal hopping, or even packing.

Putumayo, a fantastic label that has helped distill the abstract genre  of world music into digestible introductory CDs, continues their global conquest of the knee-high set this May with their latest Playground series: European Playground. The songs come from all over the Old Country, from Sweden to Hungary, France to Scotland, Ireland to Italy. The younger set will find fantastical tales of teddy bears coming to life and a strong friendship between a cow and a mouse, while older kids can start to notice how other cultural musical styles like American folk and Caribbean salsa influence music from places half a world away.  And, as an added altruistic benefit, a portion of the proceeds from all CD sales will be donated to the Brussels-based NGO European Federation for Street Children.

Check out some of our other favorite Putumayo titles:
French Cafe
Music from the Tea Lands
New Orleans
Acoustic Brazil

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Related Topics: European Travel · Family Vacation

April 22, 2009

A Guilt-Free Earth Day

By Erika Lloyd

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While walking down the street, as soon as I spot one of those clipboard-wielding individuals approaching random passersby with phrases such as, “Do you want to help the environment?” I immediately search through my purse for my cell phone so that I can pretend to be in deep conversation and avoid having to say, “No, I don’t care about the environment.” I have imagined myself responding with a variety of comebacks. “Yes, I care about the environment—I recycle, I have a low-flow shower head, I turn off the water while brushing my teeth, I bring my own bags to the grocery store, I participate in various carbon offset programs when I fly, I don’t own a car.”  When it all comes down to it, the clipboard wielder doesn’t care about what I do for the environment, as they are merely attempting to sign me up for some kind of donation to a particular environmental-related organization (I know this because I couldn't find my phone quickly enough a couple of times).  And they assume that forcing a "no" out of me is cringe-worthy enough that it'll guilt me into stopping and maybe even giving money. 

Today, April 22, marks the 39th annual Earth Day. And every year around this time, everyone's attention, even if they aren't typically very eco-minded, turns toward the issue of preserving and saving our most precious resources: our land and our environment. But doing your part to be green doesn't necessarily mean forking over cash so that other people can worry about how to save the earth.  This year’s celebration (and next year’s as well) focuses on The Green Generation Campaign, a two-year initiative to push “ordinary people to engage in individual and collective activities to improve their health, to improve their schools, to participate in building a solution to urgent national and global issues, such as climate change or the world’s water crises.”  There are an array of events all over the world on or around Earth Day, from music festivals to group activities such as picking up trash, recycling, planting trees, community gardening, nature walks, lectures, and more—find an event near you by searching the Earth Day Network’s online database. 

Continue reading "A Guilt-Free Earth Day" »

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Related Topics: Eco-Tourism · Holidays, Events, & Festivals

April 21, 2009

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

By Guest Blogger

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The Manuel Antonio National Park sign (Liz Wright)

When I was planning my trip to Costa Rica, some naysayers warned me that the town of Manuel Antonio was overdeveloped and uber-touristy and that its namesake park could be very crowded. But luckily, I didn’t heed their warnings. The park wasn’t crowded at all—even though it was high season, tourism was way down because of the recession. The town was indeed touristy, but not in a way that bothered me. I have no idea what the town was like before the area was declared a park in 1972, but I have a feeling that not much was there. The one bit of living history seems to be the bar/restaurant that’s popular for watching the sunset, Barba Roja, which opened in 1975, back when there wasn’t even a road between Manuel Antonio and Quepos, a fishing port a few miles away.

Continue reading "Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica" »

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Central America Travel · National Parks · Outdoor Adventures

April 17, 2009

Top Ten Places to Live Like a Pirate

AHOY, MATEYS!: The Flying Dutchman at Disney's Castaway Cay (courtesy, Disney)

The office has been abuzz with pirate talk this week after the somewhat surreal events off the coast of Somalia, no doubt pleasing one of our staffers who is one of the world’s biggest pirate-philes judging from his yearly Halloween pirate fest. But beyond all our swashbuckling pirate wit, it got us thinking about where to travel for some good old-fashioned pirate action—without getting in the crosshairs of AK-47-wielding Somali sea bandits (or indeed sharpshooting Navy SEALs). Here are our top ten picks; tell us if you know any other good pirate hideouts in the comments section below.

Continue reading "Top Ten Places to Live Like a Pirate" »

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Caribbean Travel · Disney Vacation · Family Vacation · Florida Vacation · Top 10 Lists

Top Travel News Stories This Week

By Karen Chen

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Time for a roundup of this week's biggest travel news stories.  I spend tons of time reading blogs, news sites, and Twitter so you don't have to!

- President Obama announced on Monday that he will be allowing Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba, and send gifts and money to the Caribbean nation as often as they like, as long as recipients aren't senior government or Community Party officials. The President described the policy shift as a showing of America's good faith and a step towards leaving behind the attitudes from the Cold War that have tensed relations over the last 50 years.

- As a result of a week of anti-government protests and political turmoil in Bangkok, many governments, including the UK, Australia, and Russia, issued travel warnings against visiting the Thai capital.  As of Thursday, the British Foreign Office has ended its warning against all but essential travel to Bangkok.

- United Airlines joined Southwest and others on Wednesday by imposing stricter rules for "seatmates of size," saying that if a passenger cannot fit into a single seat, buckle their seatbelt with an additional seatbelt extension, or put the seat’s armrest down, the airline will ask that passenger to pay for an extra seat or stay behind.  The rather controversial policy prompted US Airways and Southwest to clarify their policies regarding overweight fliers, emphasizing leniency and willingness to accommodate passengers. 

- President Obama made another important travel announcement, saying on Thursday that he plans to create a high-speed rail system interconnecting many of the country's larger cities. Though a step in the right direction for the environment and cutting foreign oil dependency, Slate magazine takes a hard look at how the proposed rail lines would affect American taxpayers.

- Despite the recent travel warnings made by the U.S. State Department and universities across the country, The Los Angeles Times reports that Mexico's top tourist destinations are up to 26 times safer than similar cities in the U.S.

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Related Topics: Air Travel · Asia Travel · Caribbean Travel · Mexico Travel · Travel News

April 16, 2009

Florida's Top Ten Roller Coasters: Kids' Picks

By Guest Blogger

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Dueling Dragons at Adventure Island, Orlando (courtesy, Orlando Tourism)

As any parent knows, children can be the worst critics and the best judges.  So when it comes to judging roller coasters, my two boys, ages seven and ten, have become quite the experts.  With mom as a travel writer, my lucky kids have put some of Florida’s “biggest and baddest” coasters to the test.

Here’s a list of their Top Ten Florida coasters, in no particular order.  I’ve included height restrictions, which I suggest you check before getting in line.  Note that this simple task has been known to avert major tantrums thrown by younger (usually shorter) would-be roller coaster riders upon arrival at the gates.

So, read—and ride—at your own risk:

Continue reading "Florida's Top Ten Roller Coasters: Kids' Picks" »

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Florida Vacation · Theme Parks · Top 10 Lists

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