The Times' favorite summer vacation photos from readers in 2014
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Four travel-related reasons to upgrade your iPhone to the new iOS 8

If you have an iPhone and have been debating whether or not to upgrade your software to iOS 8 now or later after reading early reviews focused on frustrating download times and memory demands, I can assure you that there are some travel-related perks to taking that leap of faith.

Several high-quality travel apps have launched updates in conjunction with the iOS 8 release. The best travel apps suited for iOS 8 have upgraded to using “widgets,” which means that users  can add the app to the “Today” view on the iPhone.

If you don’t have the iPhone 6 yet, don’t worry. Even my old iPhone 4S was able to download iOS 8 (after I backed up my data, transferred purchases, got an error message, upgraded my laptop to OSX 10.9.5 and then restarting the download of iOS 8, and restoring the previous iPhone content).

There are some travel-related pros to adding iOS 8. Among them:

Timed selfies.  Selfies and traveling go hand in hand. With the new iOS 8, you can put that selfie on a timer. Great for...

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On Maui, you can now bike and zip-line your way down Haleakala

Seeing Haleakala volcano from its summit is just part of the excitement for Maui visitors who choose to descend the mountain using bicycles and ziplines.

Skyline Eco-Adventures, long known for its ziplines in Hawaii,  is upping its game by incorporating a cycle ride into its new Bike-n-Zip Tour.

Visitors are taken to the volcano’s 10,000-foot peak in Haleakala National Park in time to enjoy an often-spectacular sunrise. After learning about the volcano’s history and culture, guests hop aboard bikes to glide down the slopes.

Along the way, cyclists traverse 21 switchbacks with stops to take in stunning views of the coastline.

Guests eventually arrive at Skyline’s Haleakala zipline course for two hours of canyon crossings and swoops through Maui’s lush upcountry.

The total experience lasts eight to nine hours.

The Bike-N-Zip Tour is priced at $249.95, but it can be booked online for $224.95 or by calling (888) 864-6947.

Skyline’s package is offered in partnership with bicycle tour...

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'David Bowie Is' show opens in Chicago, where it's also David Bowie Day

If you're mad for David Bowie, get on a plane to Chicago -- and wear what you dare. Ziggy Stardust costumes, photographs, handwritten lyrics, his sketches and other personal items go on display Tuesday at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel went so far as to proclaim Tuesday "David Bowie Day" in Chicago.

The "David Bowie Is" touring exhibition was organized by London's Victoria and Albert Museum as a tribute to the 67-year-old rocker and his many musical and fashion transformations. The Chicago museum will be its only stop in the U.S.

The show is meant to capture his life from his teen years in the 1950s to the turn of the century when he stopped touring, the museum's website says.

Other items on display include costumes for the "Aladdin Sane" album tour in 1973 and a coat worn on the "Earthling" album cover that he designed with fashionista Alexander McQueen.

Music videos and clips from films like "The Man Who Fell to Earth" in 1976 as well as other multimedia...

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Photo of Rio de Janeiro slum finds a home in Laguna Beach collection

If you lift your eyes above Ipanema Beach at a particular moment, you might see what Baldemar Fierro saw.

The photographer from Laguna Beach captured the twinkling lights and colorful buildings in one of Rio de Janeiro's favelas, or slums, overlooking the city's tourist beaches.

The photo, titled "Favela Morro do Cantagalo," was featured at the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach this summer. Now it has been added to the festival's permanent collection of 1,150 paintings, ceramics, photographs and other artworks that date to the 1900s.

It measures 48 by 78 inches and was shot with a large-format camera. Board member Tom Lamb explains in a statement issued Monday why the Festival of Arts bought the image: "Baldemar exemplifies a new breed of photographers, whose documentary work in Third World countries often create underlying stories such as the tension between the desperate conditions of the slums often adjacent to neighborhoods of the rich and famous with incongruous lifestyles."...

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For National Passport Awareness month, some info on 10-year rule

September is National Passport Awareness month, so this might be a good time to look at this gold standard of identification, especially if your book is 9 years old. But wait. Isn't a passport good for 10? Yes. And no.

You've seen passports change over the years, and you'll see them change again. But the most encouraging change is the government's increased emphasis on the end user — those of us who travel. You may not believe that the words "customer service" and "U.S. government" can dwell within the same sentence, but the State Department's handling of passports is giving me cause for hope, seven years after the Summer of our Passport Discontent.

Improvements since 2007, when applications seemed to disappear into a black hole? Yes. But the passport and the rules governing it aren't simple. In some cases, thanks to other countries or new ways of doing business, those rules might catch you off-guard. Here's some of what you need to know:

Passports used to be valid for 10 years — and...

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Universal's Halloween Horror Nights gets better as crowds grow bigger

Just when you think Halloween Horror Nights can't possibly get any better, the annual Universal Studios Hollywood event finds new and more impressive ways to terrorize you.

Like an evil genius devising more deviously clever ways to dispatch his victims, Horror Nights has upped its industry-leading game once again with a host of otherworldly and mythological puppet creatures that will take your breath away with their frightening realism.

The downside of this new level of excellence is an unprecedented level of popularity. At one point during my visit on opening night, all but two of the haunted mazes boasted hour-plus wait times.

Indeed, the trio of mazes on the studio backlot had a combined wait time of four hours that produced a sea of people as far as the eye could see. Adding insult to injury, Horror Nights made visitors hoof it from the lower lot to the backlot rather than transporting them by tram as in years past, giving new meaning to The Walking Dead.

The challenge for Universal is...

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Web Buzz: New to a city? Let Villy be your neighborhood guide

Traveling to a big city can be overwhelming. Here's a website that helps you find — and book lodging in — the neighborhood that's right for you.


What it does: Recommends neighborhoods and hotels best suited to you based on what you want to do on your trip. Destinations include Bangkok, Thailand; Barcelona, Spain; Berlin; London; Miami; New York; Paris; Rome; San Francisco; and Seoul, with Amsterdam and Tokyo coming soon.

What's hot: First, pick your city, then click on your interests from a short list that includes restaurants, bars and pubs, nightclubs, museums, sightseeing and shopping. Then, note who will be traveling and your per-night hotel budget, hit explore and be prepared to be impressed as a map of neighborhoods appears. The left half of the page lists why the neighborhood has been selected. You can easily see a drop-down list of neighborhoods that have been scored for you, or you can click on more recommended hotels. Hotel price, Villy score (based on its...

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Travel letters: Enhancing a visit to Luang Prabang, Laos

Enhancing visit to Luang Prabang

As much as the article depicted life in Luang Prabang, Laos, I would add a couple of things ["Mind and Spirit in Harmony" by Julie L. Kessler, Sept. 14]. I was surprised the article never mentioned that motorbikes/bicycles are a huge part of the experience.

The accommodations mentioned would be inconvenient for most travelers. We stayed at the Le Sen Boutique Hotel, which was perfect. It is on the main side of the river. It also offers airport transfers and has a beautiful pool that makes it great after a long, hot and humid day of sightseeing. The buffet breakfast is fantastic, and the restaurant is one of the top places to eat in Luang Prabang.

Mike Wagner

Los Angeles


On a mission

The mission articles couldn't have been more timely ["On a Mission to Explore" by Christopher Reynolds, Sept. 7]. On Nov. 15, I laced up my walking shoes and embarked on a 750-mile walk to discover California's 21 missions. I'm not soul-searching. I'm not an endurance...

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Travel films and events: A talk on 'Vanishing Tales From Ancient Trails'



James Michael Dorsey will discuss his latest book, "Vanishing Tales From Ancient Trails."

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Monday at Distant Lands, 20 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

Admission, info: Free. RSVP to (626) 449-3220




Backpacker Magazine's Get Out More Tour will offer tips on gear, survival skills and other trail-tested techniques.

When, where: 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Adventure 16 store, 11161 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

Admission, info: Free. (310) 473-4574



Field class

Prof. William Hayes will discuss venomous and nonvenomous snakes that inhabit Southern California's deserts.

When, where: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 28 at Black Rock Visitor Center

Admission, info: $70. (760) 367-5535


Please email announcements at least three weeks before the event to

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Gear: Baggage kills pests that might hide inside

Bedbugs and lice can surreptitiously infiltrate luggage and clothing before or after a trip. Now comes luggage that functions as an execution chamber for stowaway bugs by heating them to death.

ThermalStrike Heated Luggage has a lightweight polycarbonate blend outer shell, and inside -- hidden behind the lining – ultra-thin infrared heating panels. Just zip up the bag, plug the included electrical cord into the bag’s built-in socket, plug the other end into a wall socket, and slide the timer unit on the cord to two, four or eight hours.

The bag’s internal heat will reach up to a bug-lethal 140 degrees. Integrated sensors automatically turn off the unit when time’s up.

A blue light on the timer unit shows electricity is flowing; a green light alongside the bag’s input socket shows the heating panels are on the job.

An empty bag can be de-bugged in two hours, but the company recommends a full eight-hour cycle for clothes.

The luggage also provides spacious storage and internal zippered...

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Readers Recommend: Oyster Shed on Isle of Skye

Our small group (led by an amazing Scottish tour guide named Ricki Henderson, visited the Isle of Skye and ate lunch at the most wonderful out-of-the-way place called the Oyster Shed. It's run by Paul McGlynn with help from his mother-in-law. Paul not only sells oysters, he also harvests them from his oyster farm. The menu is packed with all sorts of local seafood, and the shed has a great selection of locally made cheeses, vinegars, pâtes and terrines. You order from Paul at the counter, and he shucks your lunch right in front of you. We ate alfresco amid gorgeous scenery. The Oyster Shed was our favorite hidden gem.

Oyster Shed, Carbost, Isle of Skye;

Susanne Savage


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Scarecrows ready to line the streets of Central Coast towns

Psst. Celebrities. In Cambria. Big names too. Names like Edgar Allan Crow. Igor & Strawvinski. And the Clock Sisters, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

OK, maybe nobody named Kardashian, but these creatures are real lookers anyway. They have been part of Cambria’s Scarecrow Festival, which has grown like a house afire (sorry, strawfolk). This year's festival begins Oct. 1.

In 2009, 30 figures made their appearance at the fest. Last year? More than 420.

Truth to tell, not all of the designs are traditional figures stuffed with straw. Some are made of papier-maché. Some are cute. Some are comical. Others are downright scary.

During October, they’ll be found outside homes and businesses throughout Cambria, which is about 225 miles from L.A., as the scarecrow drives. The crow craze has even spread to San Simeon, five miles farther north along Highway 1.

Other activities include a harvest festival and a “vine dining” evening at a local winery.

Info: Cambria Scarecrow Festival 

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