(Photo by Alaskan Dude)


We all like to travel. We like it even more when it’s free. There are several contests online right now which promise just that: free trips. Check them out!


Alaska Wildland Adventures
is giving away an 8-day trip to Alaska for up to four people. You simply need to enter their essay contest before May 22.
First Prize Winner receives 8-Day Alaska Wildland Adventure for up to 4 participants inclusive of all meals, ground transportation, guided services and gratuities as noted in itinerary; airfare to Alaska not included, alcoholic beverages and other incidentals also not included. Features stays at Kenai Riverside Lodge, Kenai Backcountry Lodge, and the new Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge; trip valued at over $12,000. No purchase necessary. Trip may be taken in 2009 or 2010. Contest Details.


The Curacao Tourist Board is giving away seventy trips to the Caribbean island of Curacao. You can enter online every day until May 23.
A trip for winner and a guest to Curacao. Trip consists of roundtrip, coach-class air transportation from a major gateway airport nearest winners residence to Curacao and five (5) days and four (4) nights’ standard hotel accommodations (one (1) room, double occupancy). Retail Value (ARV): US$3,000 each. Travel arrangements must be made through Sponsors agent on a carrier of Sponsors choice thirty (30) days prior to travel. Trip must be taken by December 31, 2009. Contest Details.


Aluxurytravelblog.com has partnered with Hyatt to give away five free 1-night stays at any Hyatt hotel in the world. The person who posts the most comments on the blog in the month of May will be the lucky winner.
The five readers with the most approved comments during May 2009 will each receive a free night at a Hyatt hotel of their choosing… anywhere in the world. Contest Details.


And of course, don’t forget about the big Conde Nast Traveler photo contest I mentioned here a couple of weeks ago. The contest ends on July 31.

(Photo by arunar)


Goa is located on the western coast of Indian peninsula in the region known as the Konkan. It is the smallest state in India, but also its wealthiest and one of its most popular tourist destinations. Each year, hundreds of thousands of international and domestic tourists come to the region to visit its beaches, temples and world heritage architecture. It also has rich flora and fauna due to its location near the Western Ghats mountain range, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The Western Ghats are home to more than 1800 plant species and 330 different kinds of butterflies.


In 1510, the Portuguese defeated the ruling kings of the area and established a permanent settlement in Goa. The area was also briefly occupied by the British during the Napoleonic Wars. When Indian achieved its independence in 1947, the Portuguese refused to give up their settlements in and around Goa. These had to be forcibly taken by the Indian armed forces in 1961. Today, Goa is a modern and thriving area with much industry and culture.


Originally constructed around 1560, Sri Mangesh temple at Mangueshi is dedicated to the deity of Lord Shiva. Its structure has evolved over the years, with much of the present building being constructed in the 1600s, and it is now one of the most visited temples in all of Goa. The temple is small yet ornate and contains all the elements typical of a Hindu temple, including mini shrines, grand towers and spacious courtyards. The legend associated with the temple is that Shiva’s wife, the goddess Parvati, was frightened by her husband disguised as a tiger on this spot. The words she uttered in terror, “Trahi Mam Girisha” (in English, “Protect me, Lord of mountains”) subsequently were shortened to “Mangirisha” or “Mangueshi,” which this the modern day name of this location.

(Photo by juicyverve)


Today kicks off the 26th Annual National Travel and Tourism Week. The celebration, running from May 9th to the 17th, is dedicated to promoting (what else?) travel and will be commemorated with pro-travel rallies taking place all across America. More than likely, you had no idea there was such a thing as National Travel and Tourism Week. To be honest, neither did I. You learn something new every day, right? National Travel and Tourism Week is sponsored by the U.S. Travel Association and focuses on getting Americans out to see domestic sights like National Parks, historic locations and amusement parks. The U.S. Travel Association’s website states that they also hope to help Americans “recognize the cultural and social benefits created by travel and tourism.”


The timing of this event really couldn’t be better. The weather is warming up, summer is fast approaching, and millions of Americans are sitting in their cubicles or stuck in city traffic dreaming of a peaceful beach and being somewhere, anywhere other than here. The American summer vacation is a time-honored ritual. While we don’t get the whole month of August to decamp to the coast, like so many Europeans, most of us get a week of vacation time and right about now we are dying to use it. The slight wrinkle in the plan this year is certainly the economy. Everyone seems to be short of cash, worried about their employment and not feeling particularly frivolous. The word “staycation” is on everyone’s lips. Whether you’re planning to stick close to home this year or are lucky enough to be heading out to more exotic locales, check out some of the National Travel and Tourism Week activities that are coming to a city near you. Your local visitor’s bureau or convention center will have information about local events.


The trips I have planned this summer fit in perfectly with National Travel and Tourism Week’s emphasis on American travel. While I’d certainly love to be running off to Bora Bora or The Bahamas, this year I’ll be staying closer to home. I’ve got a quick trip to Louisville scheduled in June and am planning to spend some time in New England in late summer. Where will your vacation plans take you?


In the hills just outside Florence, Italy you’ll find Torre di Bellosguardo, a historic and atmospheric villa featuring stunning views of the city below. Bellosguardo means “beautiful view,” and looking out over the rooftops of Florence it’s hard to disagree. Located about a 10-minute taxi ride from the city center, Torre di Bellosguardo offers great proximity to Florence and all its treasures while allowing guests to stay in a natural and peaceful setting.


Torre di Bellosguardo’s tower dates to the fourteenth century, but little remains of the original structure. The property has been carefully updated and maintained over the years. It is surrounded by gardens, trees and patios, enabling guests to enjoy a countryside environment. Staff pick fruit from the trees and vegetables from their garden to serve to guests and encourage visitors to meet the pony and donkeys kept on the property. Inside the hotel, visitors are likely to immediately look upward, admiring the original frescoes that cover the ceiling of the grand reception area. They were painted in the sixteenth century and imbue the hotel with grandeur and old world elegance.


The hotel has just sixteen rooms, each decorated in an antique Florentine style but also boasting modern amenities, including flat screen televisions. It’s hard to imagine staying inside to watch television at Torre di Bellosguardo, given the other options. More likely, you’ll find yourself luxuriating on one of the villa’s patios with a glass of wine, gazing out over the city of Florence and wondering how you got so lucky. You might take a dip in the sparkling pool, or be so carried away by the romance that you’ll ask Torre di Bellosguardo to host your wedding or vow renewal. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Have you ever noticed how noisy planes are?  If you’re lucky enough to be sitting near an engine, you get all the mechanical noise.  There’s also the noise generated by your fellow passengers, overhead bins being opened and closed and the sounds of electronic gear brought on board by others.  Once I was seated near to a child whose parents thought it was okay to let him play a video game with the sound on for hours.  Put an end to the madness.  Get yourself a pair of noise-canceling headphones.  They’ll muffle ambient sounds and allow you to enjoy a much more peaceful flight.


I tried several different brands of headphones but ultimately settled on the Sennheiser PXC 300.  They are foldable and compact, which makes them easy to stow in my carry-on bag.  The battery life is fantastic.  I rarely have to change the batteries.  They plug into airline consoles if you want to watch the in-flight movie and plug into your iPod if you’d rather listen to music. I generally prefer to just read a book while in flight, so I simply turn on the headphones and enjoy the silence.   Some noise-canceling headphones have ear buds, which are great for really blocking out noise, but I find them uncomfortable on all but the shortest flights.  I prefer Sennheiser’s cushioned, over-ear headsets.  They’re extremely light and don’t hurt my ears.  Also, these headsets are petite, so you don’t look like you’re about to DJ the plane’s disco.  When it’s time to stow the electronic gear, the headset folds up for storage in a small, padded case.   These noise-canceling headphones have become my most essential carry-on item.  They really make my flight more pleasant.

(Photo by ftzdomino)


Here is some interesting news for pet owners who like to travel with their dog, cat, parrot or pot-bellied pig. PetAirways has announced that it is launching an airline catering exclusively to animals. Yes, you read that correctly. No human passengers will be allowed, spots on these jets are reserved for your furry friends.


When you arrive at the airport, you will first drop off your pet at a nearby facility.  They will stay in what PetAirways calls the “PAWS Lounge” until take-off time, at which point an attendant will escort them to the plane. No word on whether there is an open bar in said lounge. We’ll just have to hope not.   Lest you imagine a jet filled with frolicking puppies and flight attendants serving up Milkbones, your pet will be in a carrying case during the flight.  However, they will also have attendants monitoring them, making sure they get bathroom breaks and caring for their needs.  The PetAirways website says, “We promise to transport your pet with lots of love, care, safety, and comfort in the main cabin.”  That’s definitely a different experience for your pet than being loaded into cargo.


PetAirways is currently operating out of a handful of large cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.  Current rates are $149 one way.  The concept seems to be generating interest and support.  After the initial announcement by PetAirways, their website was deluged with visitors, causing it to be only sporadically accessible.  Best Friends Animal Society was one of several animal groups to endorse the airline. Readers of Zootoo.com, a site devoted to pets, left comments of approval on the site.  Bloggers like Mary Ullmer waxed poetic on possible Pet Airways in-flight movies and which pets get access to first class.  The real question is whether enough pet owners will actually want to use the service.


Would I send my pet on PetAirways?  Well, considering that my pet is a 14-year old tortoiseshell cat known for her mood swings and propensity to vomit the instant she is loaded into a car, I’d just prefer to leave her at home.  If I had a larger animal who needed to travel with me and $300 to spare, I’d probably consider it, however.  Any human who loves an animal knows that shipping Fido with cargo is not the most appealing option.

(Photo by superde1uxe)


Today’s photo shows off the glistening turquoise waters of Smuggler’s Cove on the island of Tortola. Located just east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, Tortola is a British territory and falls under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.  The beautiful island of Tortola has been under British control since 1648, when it was wrested from the Dutch.  More than forty islands make up the British Virgin Islands.   Of these, Tortola is the largest and most populated.  The primary industry here used to be sugar cane production, but in modern times Tortola, and the British Virgin Islands as a whole, depend on tourism.  There is no shortage of tourists these days.  The British Virgin Islands are a popular stop for cruise ships in the Caribbean and many thousands of visitors fly into Tortola’s international airport each year.


Smuggler’s Cove has a good sized coral reef, making this area a perfect place to snorkel.   If you’ve brought your own snorkel gear you’ll see plentiful fish and sea life just below the surface of the water.  If you prefer to lounge on the powdery white sand, you can do so with cocktail in hand.  There is a small bar and snack stand at Smuggler’s Cove.    This beach is not typically very crowded, as it is somewhat remote and located down a long dirt road.  However, it is certainly one of the most breathtakingly scenic spots on Tortola.


When visiting Tortola, keep in mind that hurricane season runs from the beginning of June until the end of November each year.  You will find great prices on travel to the island during that time, but will encounter more frequent rainfall and perhaps even a hurricane.