Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!
In this month’s winning review, a traveler experiences remarkable hospitality on a trekking journey to the country of Georgia: “On my first full day in Tbilisi, I was lucky to be invited to the hostel’s birthday celebration for one of its owner’s friends,” writes Marinel de Jesus. “I was offered a taste of the local cuisine and experienced a wonderful merging of cultures when a fellow hostel resident played a traditional musical instrument from Iran as a way to celebrate the occasion. In Georgia, there is not much of a line between a stranger and a friend/family.”
Thanks to my perfectionist ways, I tend to do pretty well in airports. I arrive early, wear slip-on shoes that are easy to get on and off at security, organize my carry-on items well and constantly check the departure board for changes related to my flight.
But in the same way some travelers are always on the prowl for discounted getaways, my travel obsession of late is studying new strategies to master the airport experience. Fortunately, there are others out there like me, and they’ve shared their tips to hack your way through the airport.
Here are five tips and recommendations that I’ve found particularly useful lately:
Take screengrabs of your mobile boarding pass: This great article on the New Zealand website Stuff reminded me how finicky some apps can be — and that Murphy’s law dictates they’ll give you the most problems when you’re just about to approach the security officer in line at the airport. Avoid such problems by taking a screengrab of your boarding pass and displaying that. Chances are, it’s much easier to open your phone’s photos folder than to count on an airline’s app to work exactly when you need it to.
Pack an outlet splitter in your carry-on: There’s nothing more frustrating than needing desperately to charge your phone at the airport but finding all the outlets are occupied. Insider smartly suggests packing an outlet splitter, which turns one outlet into two. Then you just ask another tethered device addict to share the outlet and you both get to charge up. Outlet splitters cost just a few dollars and are widely available.
Download airport apps: I have plenty of airline apps on my phone, along with GateGuru, but I never thought to download apps for the airports themselves. Airplane News’ 10 Common Mistakes You’re Making at the Airport reminded me to download the airport apps too. I found this especially useful on a recent trip to seek out a decent place to eat and find an alternate restroom when the one near my gate was closed for cleaning.
Pick airport security lines to the left: I should have known this because I’m left-handed, but somehow it slipped my mind: Because most people are right-handed, they tend to gravitate to the right-side security lines. So it’s likely the lines to the left will be shorter, according to our own 18 Best Airport Hacks. This tip has been around for a while, but it’s still holding fast and true.
This week’s puzzle is a word scramble. Below are the jumbled names of four major cities from around the world, followed by the country where they’re located. Your job is to unscramble them. For example, “IALM, EURP” would be “Lima, Peru.” Identify all four mystery cities to win.
Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, September 26, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Mabyn Morgan, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.
Voyages: Visual Journeys by Six Photographers
Feast your eyes on these photos from the New York Times Magazine, taken in six different countries (Ethiopia, Albania, Australia, Finland, Peru and Spain). There’s a mini-essay from each photographer to provide context for the images.
10 Reasons to See More of Rwanda Than Just the Gorillas
Most tourists think of gorillas when they think of Rwanda (if they think of the country as a travel destination at all). Rough Guides encourages a broader view, touting Rwanda’s other attractions, such as performances of traditional dance, stunning hiking trails, a vibrant capital and the chance to bike with the country’s national team.
Purple Drinks and Chicken Spas: A Spicy Thai Homestay
We loved reading this vivid National Geographic account of a three-night homestay in a small Thai village. The reporter immerses himself in local life by learning to prepare Thai food, enjoying a unique “spa” treatment and watching the Thai version of “The Price Is Right.”
That’s the question — more like a whine — that I hear from my husband every time we plan a trip. Don will suit up when he needs to, but he associates jackets with work and clients and meetings, not relaxing and traveling.
Nonetheless, many vacations include at least one time to get fancy. Think cruises, weddings, a milestone dinner, a theater performance. But finding the space to pack dress clothes and keep them looking nice can be a problem when you’re looking to save space.
Enter the SkyRoll Spinner. This spinner suitcase meets most airlines’ carry-on size limits when packed (22 x 14 x 9 inches) but has the extra feature of a garment bag that clips onto the side and wraps around it. There’s also an included toiletries satchel. The inside of the garment bag has slots for folded dress shirts and ties, and the top of the carry-on has a compartment that the company designed to store the toiletry bag, but could also be a clever place to put shoes to keep them separate from your clothes. Seems like the perfect bag for the stylish traveler on the go. Right?
Well, maybe. The SkyRoll website notes that the bag is mostly designed for women, and that the size of the garment bag — 19 by 55 inches — makes it unsuitable for men’s jackets above size 40. My husband is 6’5″. While he liked the way the garment bag snapped onto the bag, it wasn’t wide enough for his dinner jacket, so he had to bend the edges to make it fit — not exactly what you want to keep it pressed. My dresses, which are smaller, were a better fit.
We discovered that the top compartment would work for shoes if your feet aren’t too big. (My women’s size 9.5 shoes went in fine; Don’s size 12 shoes were too large.) Don appreciated the thoughtful pockets in the garment bag, as well as the ease of rolling. If he didn’t already have a dopp kit, he would have gladly used the SkyRoll version, which comes with a hook to hang over the bathroom door.
What We Liked: The bag is ideal for the average-sized person who wants a comprehensive solution for a business trip or a short weekend escape. The top compartment itself is a joy for the organizer, with a glasses pocket and slots for cards and a pen in the top. If you don’t need the compartment, you can zip it out and use the extra space for the rest of your clothes.
What We Didn’t Like: If you’re tall with broad shoulders, this isn’t the bag you’re looking for.
Bottom Line: For most travelers, the SkyRoll Spinner solves the problem of keeping a jacket or dress neat and separate from the rest of your clothes. We’d recommend it for a shorter trip — say, a wedding weekend or a quick business trip — and for a shorter person.
The SkyRoll Spinner weighs 10 pounds and sells for $299.99 on the SkyRoll website. The site also offers a carry-on with rolling (rather than spinning) wheels, a garment bag and a toiletry bag. For the next month, SkyRoll is offering a special coupon code for IndependentTraveler.com readers. Use IT916 to save 15 percent on any purchase through October 21, 2016.
Want a chance to win our gently used SkyRoll Spinner? We’re giving it away. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, October 5, 2016. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the SkyRoll Spinner. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.
The last minutes of summer are ticking away, with just two days left until the official start of autumn. So while the final countdown is on, I count down for you a batch of intriguing things in the world of travel that will help you decide where to go this fall (and winter), and how to get there in the smartest possible way.
10 Transport Apps to Help You Get Around
A technology reporter for the Guardian reveals his picks for the best 10 apps to help you navigate various transportation options. While the article is U.K.-centric, most of the apps are applicable to other cities around the world.
9 New Hotels Worthy of Your Instagram Account
Vogue magazine runs down nine new properties around the world that are chic enough to appear as a square image in your social media feed, including an artistic enclave on the beach in Nicaragua. Perhaps one will be on your travel list for this fall?
8 Adventurous Ski Holidays for 2016-17
Are you a skier? These are the hottest (coldest?) ski experiences in the world this coming season, according to the Guardian. Heliskiing in British Columbia late this fall, anyone?
5 Underrated European Destinations
Romania and Montenegro are among a handful of spots in Europe that more travelers should make a priority to see, says a woman who quit her New York City job to travel the world. This autumn’s shoulder season could be the ideal time to check some out.
4 Affordable Ways to Travel Long Term
Huffington Post travel blogger Shannon Ullman suggests that volunteering abroad not only is personally rewarding, but also allows you to stay in a place for a longer period of time without spending a lot of money. She offers three other ways you can afford to travel longer.
2 People Traveling for a Year on $20,000
Writer Chris Guillebeau profiles an Arizona couple who ditched their stay-in-one-place lifestyle and hit the road, allowing housesitting opportunities to determine their destinations. Hard to believe they financed nearly the whole year merely by selling their car!
1 B&B Shaped Like a Beagle
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you suddenly discover a bed and breakfast built in the shape of a floppy-eared dog. The blog My Modern Met features the Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho, a two-bedroom cottage shaped like a beagle. Go fetch?
This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!
Hint: The cemetery above overlooks the Atlantic Ocean in this historic city.
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, September 19, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Anne, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was San Juan, Puerto Rico. Anne has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.
Check out the best travel stories you might have missed this week.
What the “Sully” Movie Gets Wrong
If you’re planning to see “Sully” — the new Tom Hanks movie about the emergency airplane landing in the Hudson River back in 2009 — you may want to take it with a grain of salt. Conde Nast Traveler reports that the film had to massage the truth a bit, adding in “villains” in the form of National Transportation Safety Board investigators.
Why “Sully” Made Me Proud to Be a Flight Attendant
While the movie may not have presented the NTSB in the best light, flight attendant Heather Poole found the portrayal of her profession to be both accurate and inspiring: “I can tell [my son] a million times that [my job is] not just about serving drinks and snacks, but until you see something like what happens in the movie ‘Sully,’ it’s kind of hard to grasp. To see his face light up like that made me feel good.”
25 Years After Independence, a Country at a Crossroads
This story offers a window into a rarely seen country: Tajikistan. As with most National Geographic features, the photos — stark mountain landscapes and probing portraits of the local people — are at least as striking as the words.
As More Devices Board Planes, Travelers Are Playing with Fire
As if we needed something else to worry about, the New York Times reports that the lithium-ion batteries found in smartphones, tablets and laptops are a major fire hazard on planes. Battery fires have contributed to three cargo plane crashes within the past decade.
Meet Earl, the Gatekeeper to Paradise
BBC interviews a man named Earl, the sole resident of a place called Paradise, located on a rough dirt road that runs between Montana and Idaho. Earl is the “camp host” for Bitterroot National Forest, welcoming hikers, rafters and other outdoorsy types throughout the summer months.
Airlines Mining Consumer Data to Target Potential Passengers
CNN reports that your airline may know more about you than you think — including your birthday, the places you visit most and what you buy besides airfare. It’s part of an effort to “improve passenger experience” (and/or market to you more effectively).
We cracked up over this week’s video, an “honest airline commercial” that sums up so many frustrating aspects of modern-day flying.
What bugs you most when you travel — a kid wailing on a plane? A backseat driver on a road trip? A dirty restroom on a train?
Busbud.com, a site for booking bus tickets, recently conducted a survey of 2,000 Americans to identify travelers’ top pet peeves. There was one common winner for both flying and bus/train travel: body odor. More than three-quarters of the respondents — 77 percent for flying, 76 percent for bus/train travel — found their fellow passengers’ stench to be bothersome. (Perhaps flight attendants should hand out deodorant in addition to headphones.)
The second-largest pet peeve for fliers was delays, with 66 percent of respondents reporting that they found them annoying. Crying babies or small children came in at number three (62 percent). The survey also discovered that people’s annoyance at crying kids varied by gender (66 percent of men were bothered, as compared to just 57 percent of women) and by generation, with millennials having less patience for unhappy babies than baby boomers or Gen Xers. (Just wait till they have kids or grandchildren of their own…)
On trains and buses, the next most common pet peeves behind body odor were unwanted bodily contact (69 percent), loud passengers (57 percent) and crying babies/toddlers (55 percent).
When it comes to road trips, respondents were less upset about assaults on their senses than they were about safety risks; the top two pet peeves in the car travel category were texting while driving (72 percent) and dangerous driving (68 percent).
The survey uncovered a few other interesting tidbits, including one that surprised me: Train and bus travelers would rather have a sneezing, coughing seatmate than one with smelly food. (Personally, I’d prefer to put up with a garlicky stench for a couple of hours than spend a couple of days sick on vacation.) And apparently fliers’ annoyance with checked baggage fees is fading; fewer than half of the respondents (43 percent) named them as a major pet peeve.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve started planning countless three-day weekend getaways but never ended up going anywhere. Either you grew tired of obsessing over the right place to stay or the best-priced flights, or you got too busy and forgot to book the trip.
A new travel agency concept launched this year that can remedy the problem for you. But there’s a catch: When you book a three-day getaway through Pack Up + Go, you don’t actually know where you’re going.
That’s not entirely true: You eventually know where you’re going, if you play along the way you’re supposed to and wait until just before you hit the road to open the mystery envelope revealing your destination.
The team at Pack Up + Go will plan a three-day trip for you in the Continental United States, based on how much you have to spend and what you want to do. On the company’s website, you fill out a brief survey, noting your per-person travel budget and whether you prefer to drive or to take a bus, train or plane. You detail your preferred trip pace, mention the cities you’ve visited recently and select your interests from a checklist of nearly two dozen options.
Add your address and credit card details, and your work is done. The team will select a medium-size or large city that’s three to four hours from your departure location. The only info you’ll know in advance is the weather forecast and a few packing suggestions.
A few days before departure, a packet will arrive in the mail, telling you what time to depart. The packet includes a sealed envelope containing your destination, confirmation paperwork and a suggested itinerary. (Additional details, including a link to a personalized Google map, come via email.)
Currently only American travelers can use the service, and destinations are only in the Continental United States. The minimum cost is $400 per person (based on at least two travelers) for a road trip and $650 per person for a plane/train/bus outing, and covers transport and accommodations only. All other costs, including food and activities, are out of pocket.
If you want to use the site, plan at least a month in advance; the service has been so popular that staff are working crazy hours to keep up with demand.