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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.

Name: www.Villy.co

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'

TRAVEL

Presentation

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

 

BACKPACKING

Seminar

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

 

JOSHUA TREE

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 travel@latimes.com.

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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, aboutscotland.net) 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; www.skyeoysterman.co.uk

Susanne Savage

Hollywood

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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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California: Check in on autumn colors

California’s fall colors don’t get enough respect. As a traveler, that can work to your advantage, keeping rates reasonable and traffic to a minimum. In fact, October might be the most beautiful time to visit the state’s rustic retreats.

Looking for lodging that suits the season? The California Assn. of Boutique & Breakfast Inns offers these suggestions:

Sorensen’s Resort, south of Lake Tahoe, offers 165 acres of prime aspen and pine forest for fishing, hiking and bicycling. Most of the cabins have wood-burning fireplaces and kitchens and some cabins are pet-friendly.  The resort also offers a traditional wood-fired sauna and a full service restaurant serving its signature cool-weather dish: beef burgundy stew. One of the best drives showcasing the golden foliage is from the top of Carson Pass on Highway 88 to the top of Luther Pass on Highway 89. 

Donner Lake Inn in Truckee, also near Tahoe, is nestled in over an acre of pine, maple and aspen trees. Guest rooms feature forest views...

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Hostels want you to give peace a chance through their 'Sleep' programs

Hostels in 28 countries, including the U.S., will be urge travelers to give peace a chance this weekend.

Hosteling International USA will host special activities from coast to coast to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace on Sunday.

The Sleep for Peace campaign is based on the premise that travel helps foster a greater understanding of people from various cultures around the world.

Several California hostels are among those with special events planned for Sunday. Among the locations and activities:

The Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel  (16th Street at Highway 1, Montara, Calif., north of Half Moon Bay) will welcome visitors to its Gardening for Peace event 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. The emphasis will be on sustainability, both at the lighthouse and at participants’ home. Guests are urged to bring gardening tools and a sack lunch.

San Diego’s hostels will band together for Journey to Peace, a peace-building conference from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Speakers will...

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'Dolphin Tale 2' introduces new stars at Clearwater, Fla., aquarium

If “Dolphin Tale” piqued your interest in Clearwater, Fla., the sequel may start you packing.

The first  “Dolphin Tale” movie told the story of Winter, a 3-month-old calf whose tail was so badly damaged by a crab trap line that it could not be saved. A prosthetic tail was created to help her glide like a dolphin.

Dolphin Tale 2,” which opened nationwide last week, emphasizes Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s mission to rescue, rehabilitate and release. The filmmakers also created a mission featurette.

Joining Winter in the new film is Hope, who was rescued as a 2-month old calf in 2010. Both are permanent residents of the Clearwater aquarium, which is about 23 miles west of Tampa in central Florida.

Admission to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium costs $19.95 for adults and provides access to viewing platforms to see Winter, Hope and other rescues.

Additional animal encounters include being photographed with Winter ($140 for an individual, ages 5 and older) and participating in a three-hour...

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Hostels want you to give peace a chance through their Sleep programs

Hostels in 28 countries, including the U.S., will be urging travelers to give peace a chance this weekend.

Hosteling International USA will host special activities from coast to coast to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace on Sunday.

The Sleep for Peace campaign is based on the premise that travel helps foster a greater understanding of people from various cultures around the world.

Several California hostels are among those with special events planned. Among the locations and activities:

The Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel  (16th Street at Highway 1, Montara, Calif., north of Half Moon Bay) will welcome visitors to its Gardening for Peace event 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. The emphasis will be on sustainability, both at the lighthouse and at participants’ homes. Guests are urged to bring gardening tools and a sack lunch.

San Diego’s hostels will band together for Journey to Peace, a peace-building conference from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Speakers will focus on...

Read more
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