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fried matzah passover ms inspireTry explaining a Seder plate to someone who barely understands what Passover is. Not an easy task, but one I found myself undertaking on a recent river cruise aboard Tauck’s newest boat, ms Inspire.

The second to last night of my nine-night Dutch Waterways cruise was the first night of Passover, my favorite Jewish holiday. I’ve only missed Passover with my family one other time in my 41 years, back in 2004 when I was backpacking around New Zealand. I went to a Seder at a synagogue and was one of maybe 100 tourists there. This time there would be no synagogue to turn to.

I packed matzah and a Haggadah, the special Jewish text that tells the story of Egyptian slavery and subsequent exodus of the Jewish people that all Jews use before and after dinner on the first two nights of Passover. The Haggadah outlines the elements of the Seder, which is essentially a ritual Passover meal.

My first day onboard, the maitre d’ invited all passengers to speak with him about their dietary requirements. I asked him if any other passengers had inquired about having a Seder onboard. He looked at me blankly.

“The special dinner for Passover,” I added, hoping that would help. He still didn’t quite get it, but one of our tour directors was there and immediately understood what I was talking about.

“Not yet,” he told me, adding that he thought there were probably a lot of Jewish people onboard and he’d see if he could find anyone interested in joining me. An hour later, he approached me in the lounge and said he had a couple for me to meet.

Marcy and Jeff Silverman, travel agents from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, were very interested, though they made it clear they were hoping for a shortened Seder (some can take up to an hour or more before you get to eat). My Haggadah has a shortened version, so no problem there.

Over the course of the next week I met several other Jewish passengers, though none were interested until I met Helen and Harvey Hacker. I mentioned the Seder to Helen, and she told me she knew Harvey would want to join in.

With our little group up to four, it was time to approach someone on the crew about actually setting up the Seder. An important element of the Seder is the Seder plate on which ritual items are placed to represent various elements of the story. These include, among others: a roasted egg, lamb shank bone, horseradish, green herb and charoset (a sweet pasted made of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon).

Away from Home for the Holidays

Two days before the first night of Passover, I approached Marina, the ship’s hotel director, to ask about setting up a small table at the back of the dining room for a Seder and putting together a simplified Seder plate. I asked her for:

- A roasted egg

- A roasted beet (it’s the vegetarian alternative to a shank bone, since it represents the same blood color, and is much easier to ask for than a meatless lamb shank bone!)

- Parsley and horseradish

- A small mixture of chopped apples and nuts (I figured that was easier than finding a charoset recipe)

- A bowl of salt water (needed to dip the parsley)

“No problem,” Marina told me with a smile.

I next asked Yener, one of the tour directors, if he could make copies of pages from my Haggadah so everyone could follow along. Another warm smile and I soon had four sets of pages to distribute. We were set.

On the first night of Passover, at 6:20 p.m., Marcy, Jeff, Harvey and I sat down at a table for six at the back of the main dining room. I had a box of matzah. The maitre d’ brought out our Seder plate and a large bowl of salt water. A waiter filled our wine glasses.

We took turns reading from the Haggadah in soft voices so as not to disturb anyone dining nearby. We said the prayer over the wine and sipped from our glasses, we took a drop of wine out for each of the 10 plagues, we dipped our parsley in salt water and combined horseradish with charoset. I even chanted the first two questions of the Four Questions, which are always asked by the youngest person at the table.

I wasn’t with my family, we weren’t drinking Manischewitz and no one spilled wine. But it felt like home.

9 Best Destinations to See from the Water

Have you ever celebrated a holiday away from home?

– written by Dori Saltzman

globeHappy Earth Day!

This year’s global theme is Green Cities, part of an initiative to reduce pollution and strain on the environment as a result of a growing urban population.

Despite what you may believe, activities surrounding this holiday of environmental awareness aren’t all educational brochures and planting trees. Events around the U.S. are as varied as biodiesel-powered amusement park rides and healthy food trucks in Ohio to “a parade of human-powered vehicles” that will deliver kegs of beer from local breweries to the Harmon Tap Room in a Washington Earth Day competition.

Earth Day is recognized by more than 190 countries across the world. Here are five examples of how other nations are celebrating April 22 with an earthly appeal.

Albania: This European nation is holding events in two different cities. In Durres, the public is invited to play a rousing game of Eco-Monopoly (based on the Green Cities theme) and join a pot-making workshop to plant flowers in containers made of recycled materials. In Vlore, students, youth and other citizens will gather in the main square to sign a petition to increase green spaces in the town.

Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City Green Talk will host Earth Day activities for representatives from across Vietnam. Students from 50 local schools will take part in a green flash mob to increase awareness for environmental issues and participate in the day’s other events.

Top Five Destinations for Ecotourism

Uganda: Uganda has numerous events planned, including tree planting, town cleaning, and a seed and soil program involving local farmers. An organization called LCD is creating a green map to develop areas of environmental significance in their community (such as planting shade-giving trees in areas like their stadium, where inhabitants suffer from too much sun exposure).

Dominican Republic: Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resorts across the country will turn off their lights to increase awareness of energy use.

Lebanon: In Dekwaneh, Earth Day events will take place in the city square and feature music, dance, art and the announcement of the city’s new green plan. Baldati.org, a Lebanese NGO focusing on social responsibility and sustainability, will host the events, which include a hike that will begin in a green area and end in a heavily built-up urban area to demonstrate the dramatic difference.

Do you have plans for Earth Day? Have you celebrated it in a different country? Let us know in the comments.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two unique musical learning experiences.

Would you rather…

… learn to play the didgeridoo in Australia

didgeridoo aborigine australia



… take a tango class in Argentina?

tango argentina


The didgeridoo is Australia’s most famous instrument, and you can learn to play it in places such as Perth (see DidgeridooBreath.com) and Melbourne (DidgesbyBruce.com.au). It’s easy to catch a tango performance in Buenos Aires, but many of the venues that offer shows also have lessons for beginners who want to get a taste of the dance. See our Buenos Aires guide for more info.

11 Best Australia Experiences

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s travel puzzle is a “guess the flag” challenge. Can you identify which nation the following flag belongs to?


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 21, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. 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 Richard Kadash, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Peru. Richard has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

calendar with pin on 13
The date may mean nothing to you now, but December 13 of this year is already getting a ton of hype at hotels and resorts around the world.

Why? Because it’s 12/13/14, and people love unique dates. Remember November 11, 2011 (11/11/11)? And get ready for March 14 (3/14/15, also known as the first five digits of the numeral pi). In fact, this week is being called Palindrome Week as all of the dates (4/12/14 – 4/19/14) read the same forward and backward.

With only 365 days in a year, it’s hard to avoid the cliche holiday proposals, stereotypical wedding dates and other event planning faux pas that make your special day overlap with that of countless others.
That’s why, according to CNBC, popular destinations such as Las Vegas are gearing up special hotel and vacation packages for this milestone — the last sequential calendar date this century. (The next won’t be until 01/02/2103.) Luckily for marrying couples and party throwers, 12/13/14 falls on a Saturday.

16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

According to the CNBC article, many of Las Vegas’ renowned chapels are already fully booked, with some accommodating couples who wish to exchange vows at exactly 12:13:14 on the clock. Some resorts and spas are offering full and exclusive rentals of their entire property on December 13, with price tags upwards of $115,000.

Other hotels and casinos are getting creative with pricing; MGM Grand is offering a package from $1,400 with a commemorative certificate to mark the calendar occasion, while Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas, is offering a special rate of $1,213.14 for its luxury Crenshaw Suite to any couple who books their 12/13/14 wedding at the property. To top it off, the married-couple-to-be will also receive complimentary weekend stays for their 12th, 13th and 14th wedding anniversaries — it’s the date that keeps on giving!

On the flip side, many share the same idea of tying the knot or making a statement on an iconic date, so it may not be so unique after all. According to a David’s Bridal survey, around 3,000 U.S. couples were set to marry last year on 11/12/13, a Tuesday, and even more six years earlier on 07/07/07 (a Saturday).

Have you ever used an iconic date for a wedding, a retirement or just an excuse to get away? Let us know in the comments!

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

zodiac aerospace face to face seatsWoe to the flier who’s stuck anywhere near a screaming infant, a guy who snores or a woman who’s unaware of a little something called deodorant. It’s bad enough when you’re wedged next to an undesirable flight companion, but imagine sitting face to face with one (or all) of them.

As reported by Runway Girl Network, a new airplane concept developed by seat manufacturer Zodiac Aerospace would have the window and aisle passengers facing forward and the middle passenger facing backward. Although studies have shown that backward-facing seats are actually safer in the event of an emergency, this would add a whole new level to our loathing of the middle seat and likely create an additional way for airlines to charge for the privilege of sitting near the window or aisle.

Facing your fellow travelers would make it that much harder to politely ignore them if all you want to do is catch a catnap or read that book you’ve been dying to start. Quick! Avert your eyes, lest the overly chatty woman across from you decide to strike up a conversation about her horrible layover, dislike of cats or recent bunion surgery. And imagine trying to eat your airline-provided peanuts in peace without feeling like you’re sitting at a family dinner. Talk about awkward.

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

There are also some concerns among fliers about whether the seats’ design would impede the exit of passengers during an evacuation. Some argue it could be a hazard, but others think the design’s fold-up construction (much like a theater seat) might actually help to speed things up by offering extra room while entering and exiting each row.

For now, this arrangement is still in its conceptual stage, and it’s only being proposed for short-haul flights. And there’s a silver lining; since the seats would alternate with regard to the direction they’re facing, passengers would no longer have to worry about fighting for room on armrests or tray tables — a minor victory when personal space is at a premium.

Face-to-face flying: Love it or hate it? Share your opinion in the comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

Calling all hikers and international travelers! If you often find yourself in places where you don’t have easy access to safe drinking water — such as developing countries or remote hiking trails — you may be interested in a new product called the GRAYL.

This attractive, stainless steel water filtration cup works almost like a French press. You fill up an outer mug with water, then push a slightly narrower cup (equipped with a filter) into the outer mug, which forces the liquid through the filter and removes bacteria and other impurities that can make the water unsafe to drink. Check out the video below for a demonstration.



The GRAYL, which sells for $69.95, comes with a filter that removes 99.99 percent of bacteria and 99.94 percent of protozoan cysts, as well as metals and chemicals such as chlorine, BPA and lead. The filter is good for about 300 uses and can be replaced for $19.95 (or $49.95 for three).

While the normal filter is sufficient for travel within the United States or to most other developed countries, international travelers or backcountry hikers will probably want to upgrade to the Purifier, which costs $39.95. Beyond everything the standard filter removes, the Purifier takes care of 99.999 percent of viruses, bacteria and protozoa.

If there’s one downside to the GRAYL (aside from the cost), it’s the weight. It comes in at 19.6 ounces before you even fill it with water, making it a heavy addition to your daypack — but it sure beats carrying multiple disposable water bottles.

Drinking Water Safety
Traveling in a Developing Country: 11 Dos and Don’ts

Want to try it for yourself? We’re giving away a GRAYL, including both the regular filter and the Purifier, to one lucky winner. To enter, leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on April 27, 2014. We’ll pick one winner at random. 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.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Today’s post is part of a weekly series called “Travel Toss-Up,” in which we ask you to take your pick between two amazing travel experiences.

This week’s toss-up offers a choice of two places to see colorful spring flowers.

Would you rather…

… explore Japan during cherry blossom season, or …

japan himeji castle cherry blossoms sakura



… see spring blooms in the Swiss Alps?

switzerland swiss alps flowers spring


Japan is famous for its sakura, or cherry blossoms, which flower at various times between March and May (depending on which region of the country you’re visiting). In the mountains of Switzerland, striking alpine flowers add color to meadows and hillsides throughout the spring and summer.

Photos: 12 Best Japan Experiences
12 Places That Shine in Shoulder Season

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

This week’s brainteaser is a Friday Word Puzzle. We’ll give you a category and the first letters of five words that fall into that category, and you fill in the rest. Keep in mind that there may be more than one possible response for each letter. For examples, check out this blog post.

Ready to give it a try? Here’s this week’s challenge:

cities in france


Enter your list of cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 14, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. 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 Ryan Price, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

cities in france


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman

airport plane gateThe customer is always right, right? Wrong. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Northwest Airlines’ right to revoke loyalty program privileges to a passenger who complained too often, according to ABC News.

The passenger, Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg, filed a class action suit in 2009 after he was removed from WorldPerks, the airline’s frequent flier program. He claimed the measure was to remove high-mileage passengers in the face of a pending merger with Delta Air Lines, and sought $5 million plus a restored WorldPerks status and prohibition of any future revocations of his status, according to Consumerist.

Northwest refuted the claim, pointing to a provision of the mileage program’s terms that gives the airline the right to cancel members’ accounts for abuse. The airline reported that Ginsberg complained 24 times in a seven-month period, including nine instances of delayed luggage arrival. All told, Northwest paid Ginsberg $1,925 in travel credit vouchers, 78,500 bonus miles, a voucher for his son and $491 in cash reimbursements, before pulling the plug on his account.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight

Justice Samuel Alito ruled based upon the Airline Deregulation Act, which prohibits parties from bringing forward state-level claims dealing with the price, route or service of an air carrier. Justice Alito noted that travelers can still take their complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation or choose a different frequent flier program if they’re unhappy with an airline’s treatment.

“We think [the ruling] harms consumers by giving airlines greater freedom to act in bad faith in performing their contracts with consumers,” said Ginsberg’s attorney Adina Rosenbaum of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

We don’t often side with the airlines here at IndependentTraveler.com, but in this case I think the ruling is fair. A line needs to be drawn for any rewards program because there are always going to be people who take advantage of a generous offer. Holding an airline accountable to high standards is one thing, but ultimately it’s a business that needs to act in its own best interests.

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

What’s your take? Would you side with the airlines’ right to protect themselves against excessive claims for compensation, or does this ruling give them too much power?

written by Brittany Chrusciel