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Instagram Hits The Wall at Portland's Hotel Lucia

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This month, a wall in the lobby of Portland’s Hotel Lucia became the first permanent installation of futuristic social art. 

Like a scene from The Outer Limits, Intel Labs has installed a massive projector with custom software and optical sensors to display images from Instagram tagged #LuciaWallPDX. Everyone, from hotel guests to local Portlanders, is encouraged to drop in and swipe through the pictures, arranged as an enormous and ever-changing collage.

The immersive experience blends science fiction, social media, and art, allowing users to tag their emotional response and complete the circle by uploading their own photos to the wall.  

Melanie Lieberman is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of Hotel Lucia

Bullet Train Cuts Travel Time in Half From Paris to Barcelona

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Traveling around Europe just got faster with the new TGV train linking France and Spain. On Sunday, the inaugural journey began at 7:15 a.m. in Paris, and concluded less than six and a half hours later in Barcelona. That’s less than half the time it used to take.

The new line—which gives the world's fastest trains a run for their money—also links Lyon, Marseille, and Toulouse, and was celebrated by both French president Francois Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as a milestone for international relations between the two countries.

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American Airlines' Plusgrade Program Lets Fliers Bid on Upgrades

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How much would you pay to upgrade on your next flight? That’s what American Airlines is finding out, now that they’ve launched their trial Plusgrade program.

“It’s simple,” their website promises. Six days before a flight, travelers can check to see if an upgrade is available (currently, the test is only being conducted in 13 undisclosed markets). If there’s a seat open in the next-highest class, flyers are encouraged to name their price.

If accepted, the upgrade will include priority check-in, boarding, and baggage, and complimentary food and beverage service.

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JetBlue’s Super Fast Wi-Fi Arrives at Last… For Free!

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Finally, the day that travel-obsessives have been waiting for is here: JetBlue’s new in-flight Wi-Fi, the product of endless chatter for months on end, is finally making its debut. This morning, a beta version of Fly-Fi (Simply Surf, as they’re calling it) was made available on three inaugural flights, indicating a slow launch for the carrier.

Morgan Johnston, JetBlue’s manager of corporate communication, says the airline will be bringing connectivity to five planes by end of year, and 140 more throughout 2014. But compensating for the slow roll out is super-fast service, thanks to a unique high-speed satellite that’s unrivalled among other airlines. An extra perk? Simply Surf will be free for the first six months, with an intention to make complimentary service available on an ongoing basis.

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Instagram Direct Launches For Private Sharing

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Today, at a rare NYC-based launch event, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom announced a new feature called Instagram Direct. Like your private inbox on Twitter or Facebook, it’s a new way to share privately—either with one individual or a group of up to 15 friends. Simply select who you want to share your photo with, and each person’s avatar shows up in a bubble underneath your caption—first grayed out, then in color with a green check mark once they’ve seen your message.

The new feature (available today on mobile) comes in response to the tendency of self-curating—not wanting to overwhelm your feed with every single shot of your Roman holiday, for instance—and the need to share those extra images with the people who really do want to see them. (Named groups, such as “Family” or “Foodie Friends” will follow in the 2.0 version of Direct, making it easier to share that ump-teenth baguette and cheese shot in Paris without annoying your best carb-avoiding gal pal.) So why have the launch in New York? Said Systrom: “Instagram isn’t just about Silicon Valley. Instagram is all about sharing moments all around the world.” We couldn't have put it better ourselves.

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Maria Pedone

Smithsonian Now Offers 3D Printing on Popular Exhibits

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What do Amelia Earhart’s flight suit, a remnant of a supernova, and Abraham Lincoln’s face have in common? You can now have your own life-sized replica of each. If you happen to possess an enormous, 3D-printer, that is.

As part of the Smithsonian Institute’s efforts to preserve its assets, which include more than 137 million objects ranging from fine art to fossils, an ambitious digitization project has begun.

Currently, only 1 percent of the Smithsonian’s collection is on display in its exhibition. Creating 3D, digital replicas of these objects in their online gallery—as well as the remaining 99 percent—will allow the entire world unprecedented access to the institute’s treasures. 

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American + US Airways Merger Is Official: Say Hello To The World’s Largest Airline

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It’s been almost a year since travel behemoths American Airlines and US Airways first announced their plan to merge into the world’s largest airline. This morning, after months of negotiations and several concessions from both parties, the market finally opened with AAL shares on NASDAQ, representing the financial future of the new, officially approved American Airlines Group, Inc.

The $11 billion dollar deal salvaged a struggling American Airlines from bankruptcy, but required both airlines to surrender major gate slots across the country—more than one hundred total—at hubs that include Washington's Reagan and New York's LaGuardia airports.

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How Far in Advance Should You Book Airline Tickets?

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Wondering when you should book your flights for 2014? Finding the lowest fares means hitting the booking window at just the right time. We asked KAYAK to crunch the numbers for airfares around the world. Here's a look.

Amy FarleyHave a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at tripdoctor@timeinc.com. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.

Check out Delta's New Holiday Video

We're loving Delta's new holiday video, which features flight attendents, pilots, and other crewmembers making music with improvised instruments—peanuts and service carts, for example. Take a look!

It seems like there's a new airline video every day, as legacy liners and up-and-comers strive to retain loyalty among their flyers. Expect to see a Virgin America holiday video sometime soon.

Peter Schlesinger is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure, and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @pschles08.

Roomer: A New (Discounted) Market for Hotel Rooms

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Think of it as the StubHub for hotel rooms: with new site Roomer.com, travelers are able to offload non-refundable reservations onto anyone looking for a good deal. Unlike the ticket scalping site, bookings are re-sold at a discount—and often a steep one. On a recent search, we found half-priced rooms at the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental Miami, as well as rooms under $100 in New York City (yes, seriously). Here’s how it works: those looking to book simply browse through Roomer’s search engine and pick where they’d like to spend a night (or more). Each reservation must stick to the same dates as the original booking—one key downside—but Roomer takes care of transferring the reservation details to your name and credit card. We love the way the site puts the “current market value” next to your discounted price on numerous listings—it’s that kind of data that really gets a bargain hunter going!

Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.

Photo courtesy of Roomer

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