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This Week in Photos is full of twists on tradition: A Halloween surf competition, a Zombie Walk to commemorate the Day of the Dead … and more. Expect nothing less from our travel news roundup, where you’ll meet an inspiring 100-year-old and go on a record-breaking cross-country road trip.

We all have ideas of trips we’d like to cross off of our “bucket list,” but one 100-year-old adventurer is showing us it’s never too late to follow your dreams. Elsa Bailey recently traveled to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada to see polar bears in their natural habitat. She said it’s something she’s always wanted to do, and when the opportunity came, she “jumped at it.”

In other adventure trip news…an Atlanta man took “road tripping” to a whole new level this week, setting a record for the fastest cross-country drive from New York to California in just 28 hours and 50 minutes. Ed Bolian started planning about 18 months ago, adding gas tanks to his Mercedes Benz and purchasing high quality radars to avoid police – something that he says he doesn’t endorse. Find out more about his journey here.

If you’re travelling this Thanksgiving, you might want to prepare yourself for some long lines. Between Nov. 22 and Dec. 3, more than 25 million people are projected to board flights for the holiday. The total number would be a 1.5 percent increase over last year’s travelers, according to Airlines for America.

Before you leave on your trip this holiday season, Johnny Jet says there’s an important step you need to take in order to protect your money. He says notifying your bank and your credit card company that you’re traveling out of the country can put an end to suspicious activity that comes through from your hometown. Safe travels!

This Week in Travel

There are not 1, not 2, but 3 Guiness World Record attempts in This Week in Photos – find out who’ll set the next record. There’s some history-making in our travel news roundup as well, at least where your smartphone or tablet is concerned on your next flight.

Soon you won’t have to put down that book on your iPad as your plane hits the tarmac thanks to a decision by the FAA to allow the use of electronic devices for the duration of flights. While this does mean you can play games and work on drafting a blog post about your trip, it does not give you the freedom to pass time by calling Grandma or texting a friend – voice calls and use of data plans will remain banned aboard flights.

Virgin Airlines is joining the recent trend of high-quality in-flight safety videos (if you haven’t seen Air New Zealand’s video featuring Betty White you must catch up), releasing an information music video led by G.I. Joe and Step Up 2 director Jon M. Chu. The video brings together dancers, singers and choreographers from American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, and is a little catchy (I may or may not be humming the tune as I write this).

Gadling reports that the Leaning Tower of Pisa, isn’t “leaning” as much as it once was. The iconic bell tower is standing up a little straighter these days due to a massive restoration project. A new study out this week says that the tower has straightened by 1 inch (2.5cm) since 2001.

Still haven’t booked Thanksgiving travel? It’s not too late, but you’re going to need to be creative. Johnny Jet has rounded up 10 ways to find cheap Thanksgiving travel that could be your key to saving some money this holiday season.

Photo by Getty

Much like the hit show Breaking Bad caused an influx of visitors to Albuquerque, NM, this year, the newest take on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, that premiered on Fox last month, is leading flocks of curious visitors to vacation to the tiny New York town of the same name.

Sleepy Hollow village administrators have noticed a significant increase in the number of visitors wandering around Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and the Headless Horseman Bridge with several tours of the area selling out as early as September – something that just doesn’t happen.

Sleepy Hollow, which was just picked up for a second season, is loosely based on the 1820 legend, but with a modern twist: Protagonist Ichabod Crane has been resurrected centuries after his death to save the town of Sleepy Hollow, and of course the world, from forces of evil.

The village, located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, is home to “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” author Washington Irving’s gravesite and served as inspiration for the made-up town where Irving’s story of the legendary “headless horseman” took place.

The town of Sleep Hollow is embracing its new-found fame and record website traffic, creating a spooky commercial encouraging visitors to trek to the area featuring ghosts, ghouls and the headless horseman himself shopping for groceries and going about normal everyday activities.

And the attention might only gain more steam. Rumors from the show’s production company are that the cast itself will visit the town and are looking for possible storylines from the iconic area to bring to prime time television.

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Halloween Destinations
Ghoulish Ghost Tours
Top 5 Halloween Screams

Haunted houses, costume parties, and trick-or-treating are often seen as the “traditional” Halloween events that many Americans participate in each year. But one of the increasingly popular attractions taking over fall includes a stroll through real creepy crawlies, bats and “unnatural mysteries” at one of the nation’s zoos.

Coined as a “boo at the zoo,” the events attract people of all ages and offer a twist to the standard neighborhood trick-or-treating. As you prepare to make your Halloween plans, take a look at these 5 popular October zoo events:

1. Oakland Zoo  (Oct. 26 and 27)
Children get a free ride on the “spooky boo train” as well as access to exclusive trick-or-treating among the animals at this zoo-wide event at the Oakland Zoo in California. The event is included with admission and offers participants a chance to make treats for the zoo’s animals and explore monster myths through educational stations.

2. Smithsonian National Zoo (Oct. 25, 26 and 27)
Collect candy while visiting the animals and Halloween decorations at the Nation’s historic zoo in DC. While it’s not exactly cheap (tickets are $30 for non-members), the event sells out and benefits the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) foundation.

3. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (Oct. 25, 26, 27 and 31)
Watch hippos play with pumpkins, rhinos explore ghosts and birds fly above your head at the Cheyenne Mountain “Boo at the Zoo” event. The “creatures” of the zoo are “let out” at this annual event as zoo keepers put on multiple educational Halloween-themed shows.

4. Bronx Zoo (Now through Nov. 3)
Encounter a dinosaur safari and creepy craft workshops at the Bronx Zoo’s annual Halloween bash. Visit the “winged icons” of Halloween, including bats, owls and vultures, before embarking on a trip back in time through a dinosaur safari during the annual New York tradition.

5. Tampa’s Lowry Park (Oct. 24 through 27)
The Halloween zoo event at Tampa’s Lowry Park is so frightening that there are “skull ratings” for the attractions. Features include “Pharoh’s Tomb of Revenge” where artifacts come alive and the scariest ranked attraction of all, “Tangled Terror,” which features a “failed experiment” with carnivorous plants.

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Halloween Destinations
Ghoulish Ghost Tours
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Photo courtesy Disney

More than 2 years after the announcement of an Avatar-themed land at Animal Kingdom Park, Disney has released much anticipated details of the plans to idolize James Cameron’s blockbuster movie through rides and attractions.

The new “land” is expected to open to the public in 2017 and will transport visitors to the mythical world of Pandora featuring floating mountains, bioluminescent rainforests and soaring Banshees. The expansion will be the largest in Animal Kingdom history.

The detailed plans were released at the first ever D23 Disney fan expo in Japan, with Cameron appearing in a video filmed on the Avatar performance capture stage to talk about the inspiration for the new park.

Photo courtesy Disney

“In my wildest imagination growing up I don’t think I could have ever envisioned a day when something that I created would live inside a Disney theme park,” Cameron said.

Features of the new attraction include chances to “fly” across the planet on the wings of giant creatures as well as explore the scenery of the mythical planet.

“The land comes to life when you interact with it and seems to be a living creature itself,” said Joe Rhode, a veteran executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. “All of the beauty, the wonder, the scale, the grandeur that you remember from that film, that’s going to be yours.”

Even though the announcement comes more than 8 years after the release of Avatar, the hype of the “blue people” will continue through the opening of the new attraction with the premiere of Avatar 2 in 2016, Avatar 3 in 2017 and Avatar 4 in 2018.

Photography by Getty Images

One of Europe’s first examples of urban planning, the “Place Royale” was one of the continent’s first residential squares and the oldest in Paris. More »
Lake Natron

Photo by Thinkstock

It’s not exactly the vacation capital of the world due to its isolated location, but Lake Natron in Tanzania, Africa, is turning heads for what’s appearing from the depths of its alkaline concentrated water.

Almost everything that goes into the lake comes out dead and mummified, appearing to have “turned into stone.” Ash from volcano Ol Doinyo contaminated the lake, creating high concentrations of soda and magnesite that make it impossible for animals diving into the lake to survive.

Photographer Nick Brandt came across “calcified” birds and bats during a trip to the area. He captured images of the animals that he placed in poses as if they were still alive and published them in a new book titled “Across the Ravaged Land.”

Scientists suggest that the animals are confused by the “glassy” reflection of the water and enter the surface, causing them to get trapped and slowly calcify. The only creatures that survive this concoction are alkaline tilapia; fish that have adapted to the lake’s extreme conditions. Flamingos in the area can also survive standing in the water because of the protective skin or “shell” on their legs.

While the views and images from the area are striking, most travel sites say the lake is most appreciated from above as getting to the lake itself can be treacherous. It’s a 5-hour drive from the safari camps of the Serengeti’s Loliondo area and the accommodations at Lake Natron consist of tarp covered tent areas.

Also, with lake surface temperatures soaring above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, a water PH level equal to pure ammonia, and an evaporation rate that is ten times that of the region’s rainfall, it’s not exactly an ideal swimming or fishing hole.

But for the intrepid traveler, the views and science behind the area can make for an unforgettable experience.

This Week in Photos

The US government shut down for the first time in 17 years, thwarting tourists’ plans in Washington, DC — but it was business as usual for the rest of the world in this week in photos. Whether you’re trying to salvage your vacation — or trying to forget the whole thing — our favorite travel bloggers came to the rescue.

If you had a trip planned to one of the nation’s nearly 400 national parks, historic sites and monuments in the near future, you’re most likely working on rescheduling your vacation. The Daily Traveler has put together a list of government shutdown alternatives featuring ways to visit historic sites and still get a dose of history to work around the indefinite closing of the nation’s national monuments and parks this week.

When it comes to planning your next trip, Nomadic Matt has 17 easy tips to help with the process. Stemming from his personal experiences, Matt’s helpful tips include everything from picking a destination and planning activities to automating your bills and telling your credit card companies you’re traveling.

When you’re tight on money for the trip you’re planning, Johnny Jet suggests that travelers remember there’s always a couch to stay on if you can’t afford a hotel. Couchsurfing.org matches adventurous travelers with hosts that open their homes to strangers looking to explore the globe.

If you’re flying this fall and find that the airplane seats are a little too close for comfort, know you’re not alone. According to a post on Gadling, 9 out of 10 passengers would like to see reclining airplane seats banned. Next time, look behind before you recline.

The Standard New York

The Standard, New York in our Extreme Bathrooms slideshow.

Last week, Slate reported on a hotel trend I’ve experienced first hand: “The Fall of the Bathroom Wall.” Opting for open-plan bedroom/bathroom suites, luxury hotels like NYC’s Standard hotels and Paris’ Hotel Particulier Montmartre are knocking down bathroom walls and replacing them with glass, modesty shades -– or sometimes nothing at all.

What these rooms lack in privacy they more then make up for in natural light, space and certainly, sex appeal. But as Slate points out, they also bring “logistical awkwardness when sharing a room with people who were never meant to see you naked.”

I found this out for myself while on a girls’ spa weekend in Florida. Our suite at The W was upgraded thanks to my best friend’s enviable Starwood preferred guest status. However, when we realized the better view and bigger floor plan also came with an all-glass “peek-a-boo” shower, we politely asked to move back to a standard double. We knew we’d be seeing a lot of each other that weekend -– but not that much.

While glass showers and exposed soaking tubs may come as a sexy surprise on a couple’s weekend, they aren’t for every guest. Tell us in the comments: Do you think open-plan hotel bathrooms are a fad or here to stay?

It’s that time of year again. One day you wake up and shiver, realize “Yes, I probably should have worn a coat to work,” and then notice the leaves are slowing changing color. But if you’re just not ready for fall — or you’d like to relive summer one last time — see all of our 2013 photo contest winners in one place.

2013 Photo Contest Winners

1. Bubble Cheeks: ”I was enjoying a fun afternoon with my 4-year-old nephew, who is learning to swim. He was showing me how to make ‘bubble cheeks.’” — Susan

2. A Day in Paradise: ”Hawaii is one of our top destinations. We love to go there every year. This picture was taken at Big Island, HI, on a beautiful day. Look at that sunset — it’s so peaceful.” — Annie L.

3. Mediterranean Marvels: “Sunshine over the Colosseum! My adventure to the Mediterranean this Summer was life-changing. I was captivated by the history and beauty of several of the amazing sites throughout Italy, Greece and Turkey!” — Sable’s Travels

4. King of the Jungle: ”Cute cub. Very aware of mom. We grabbed this close-up while on safari at Tanda Tula. Thought the cub was very cute. Noticed later that mom was much more observant than we initially believed.” — Patrick M.

5. Floating in Paradise: “My husband and I went to the beautiful island of Bora Bora on our honeymoon. Each morning, I would jump off of our balcony into the blue lagoon below. One morning my husband saw me floating and snapped my favorite shot of the trip!” — Tiffaney

6. Heavenly Thoughts: ”Tintern Abbey, is situated in the village of Tintern in Monmouthsire, on the Welsh bank of the River Wye, which forms the border between Monmouthshire in Wales and Gloucestershire in England.” — Tintern Abbey

See all of the finalists in our 2013 Summer Photo Contest slideshow.

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