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ballard seattleOn a recent trip to Seattle, I found myself wishing I hadn’t stayed in Lower Queen Anne. Sure, it’s a nice, centrally located neighborhood near the Space Needle, but I could have easily spent an entire vacation in the quirkier neighborhoods of Fremont and Ballard. I was even more disappointed with my choice in Portland, where I ended up between financial institutions and chain coffee shops instead of breweries and wacky food carts.

I vowed to stay at a hotel in a “cool neighborhood” on my next urban getaway, but quickly discovered how rare of a concept that actually is. The majority of traditional hotels tend to be in or near the center of town; however, there are still options for accommodations in neighborhoods off the beaten path. Here’s how to find them.

1. Research City Neighborhoods
When planning a city vacation, do your research to find out which neighborhoods are the most unique. Reddit is a decent resource for this — many cities have their own page on which you can ask locals for suggestions. Convention and visitors bureaus are another valuable resource, especially if you can email or call someone directly to chat about options.

“I always look for good restaurants,” says Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief of our sister site, Cruise Critic. “There’s usually a good scene around good food.” She also suggests researching interesting shops, art galleries and local markets.

2. Search for Rentals
If you’re traveling internationally in particular, look to stay in an apartment or flat that’s far enough from the tourist traps, yet close enough that you can catch a bus or subway to the center of town. Apartments and flats provide a great means to feel like a resident while you’re in town — why not visit that local market for ingredients to cook a regional delicacy in your own rental kitchen?

“Serviced flats are another good option,” says Brown. She suggests Adina Apartment Hotels, which are located in Hungary, Denmark, Germany and Australia. Farnum and Christ is also reliable for accommodations in London, she says.

Airbnb and HomeAway are good choices as well, and both offer map views that let you easily pick out properties in the neighborhood you’re after.

Vacation Rentals: A Traveler’s Guide

3. Consider a Bed and Breakfast
If you want the convenience of a hotel without the impersonal downtown location, search for a bed and breakfast. You won’t likely find many (if any) in the central areas of cities.

For example, a quick search of B&Bs in Chicago reveals Ray’s Bucktown B&B and Wicker Park Inn Bed and Breakfast. Bucktown/Wicker Park is a trendy, historic neighborhood in Chicago, and is a short, direct subway ride from the center of town. Another search for B&Bs in Venice shows B&B Ca’Bella in the area of Cannaregio, where many locals live. This area is off the beaten path and away from most of the crowds, yet within reasonable walking distance of the Rialto Bridge.

Big-City B&Bs

4. Consider a Travel Agent
Don’t underestimate the power of a good travel agent, especially if you don’t have time to research unique accommodations. A travel agent can help you find what you want, along with other points of interest so you feel prepared. “Look at magazine hot lists for travel agents,” Brown suggests. “These type of accommodations can be intimidating.”

– written by Amanda Geronikos

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 world-famous waterfalls.

Would you rather…

… see Iguazu Falls (visible from both Brazil and Argentina) or …

iguazu falls brazil argentina



… check out Victoria Falls on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe?

victoria falls zambia zimbabwe


Iguazu Falls (also spelled Iguassu) is located in the heart of the jungle on the border between Argentina and Brazil. In addition to the falls themselves, the park is worth a visit for wildlife such as butterflies, coatis, monkeys and colorful birds. Victoria Falls can be visited from either Zambia or Zimbabwe, and activities include bungee jumping, whitewater rafting and flightseeing.

9 Easy Hikes That Will Take Your Breath Away

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 countries 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:

index card puzzle

 

Enter your list of European rivers in the comments below. You have until Monday, September 15, 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 Janice Ketsche, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

european rivers


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman

borgund stave church norwayOn a recent trip to Norway, a member of the country’s tourism bureau told me that the number of U.S. visitors to Norway increased by about 40 percent in 2014 due to “Frozen.” That’s right — an animated Disney blockbuster for children boosted the number of travelers to the region by nearly half. That got us thinking about other movies that have spurred visits from loyal fans and, in some cases, even tours that feature the places where the actual filming took place. Read on for a list of some of the most notable ones.

“Frozen” (Norway)
Set in the Norwegian fjords, this story takes Anna, a princess, on a journey to find her sister with the help of a snowman. It sounds quirky, but Disney is now offering official “Adventures by Disney” tours of the region, which include stops in Bergen (on which Arendelle, the movie’s fictional setting, is based), as well as activities like rafting, hiking, fishing, dancing and fjord exploration.

“The Lord of the Rings” (New Zealand)
This famous fantasy series, shot entirely in New Zealand, had many filming locations within the country, including Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury and Fiordland, among others. Several companies like Lord of the Rings Tours offer guided excursions to various places seen in the movies, but you can also easily organize your own tour with the help of New Zealand Tourism’s resources.

I’ll Take a Large Popcorn and a Ticket to Paris

“Anne of Green Gables” (Canada)
The classic novels and their made-for-TV counterparts still draw lots of visitors each year to Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, Canada. While there, you can get a feel for the place Anne called home and even tour Green Gables, the house that was used in the TV/film series; it has been decorated to look just like what you’ve imagined from the books.

“Memoirs of a Geisha” (Japan)
Set in Kyoto, Japan, a “Memoirs of a Geisha” tour — like this one offered by Japan for You — will take you to several of the movie’s shooting locations and expose you to Japanese food and culture through performances and trips to shrines, restaurants and tearooms. You’ll also have some free time to explore on your own.

The Top 5 Airlines for In-Flight Entertainment

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

What’s going on in this photo? Come up with a clever caption for this funny travel pic and you could win an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

monkeys ubud indonesia


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Tuesday night, September 16, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal our favorite caption on Wednesday. Remember, keep it clean; please be sure to abide by our community guidelines when commenting. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

– 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 sweet spots for a stroll.

Would you rather…

… watch the sun rise over the Con Dao Islands in Vietnam, or …

sunrise con dao islands vietnam



… catch a sunset in Santorini, Greece?

santorini sunset greece


Vietnam’s Con Dao Islands are gaining notice for their natural beauty and their importance as a refuge for marine life such as sea turtles, dolphins and the highly endangered dugong (a relative of the manatee). Santorini is one of the most popular of the Greek Isles. The village of Oia is home to the whitewashed houses and spectacular sea views that the islands are known for.

11 Best Vietnam Experiences
Slideshow: Greek Isles Revealed

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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!

world destination


Hint: These traditional reed boats are crafted on the shores of this, one of the most famous lakes in the world. Do you know where it is?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, September 8, 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 Ella Farantatos, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Lake Titicaca in Peru. Ella has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

eyjafjallajokull volcano icelandIn less than two weeks, I’m leaving for a trip to Iceland. Yes, Iceland, where a volcano is currently erupting.

Any mention of “Iceland” and “volcano” conjures up visions of the massive ash cloud produced by the famously unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010, grounding thousands of flights across Europe. Fortunately, this time the Bardarbunga volcano has been spewing out lava and smoke, not ash — at least so far.

I was already a little bit stressed out over this trip because of some ongoing health issues within my family, so hearing that I could potentially be stranded five time zones away from home if an ash cloud materializes was not exactly reassuring news.

As a travel writer, I typically advise people with concerns about a trip to purchase travel insurance, which will usually protect you if weather, illness or other calamities threaten your vacation. But because the volcano has been simmering for a few weeks now, most travel insurers are excluding any volcano-related losses from coverage (unless you purchased your policy well in advance).

Alas, I did not buy insurance when I first booked the trip, so there’s little I can do beyond ensuring that any last-minute reservations I’m making are fully refundable — and crossing my fingers that the volcano and health gods will be kind.

Reykjavik Travel Guide

This reminds me that every trip I take has some element of uncertainty, even if it’s usually not as dramatic as a lava-belching volcano. After all, you never know when a flight delay will strike, a family member will fall ill or a much-anticipated attraction will be closed. While insurance and advance planning can help cushion the blow, there are no guarantees that a trip will go smoothly — and in many ways, the risk of the unknown is part of travel’s essential appeal.

In that spirit, I’m embracing this trip to Iceland, worries and all. And next time, well … I just might purchase that travel insurance.

5 Ways to Beat Pre-Trip Panic

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Would you watch a show featuring four senior men backpacking across Europe? Well, many in South Korea already have, and according to an Entertainment Weekly article, the show is so popular it’s coming to America.

“Grandpas Over Flowers” is a travel and reality show that features four South Korean men over 70 years old, on a backpacking adventure with the help of a porter who helps to cook and drive.

The concept — set to debut on NBC under the name “Better Late Than Never” — will feature four older, as-yet-unnamed actors backpacking across Asia with a younger porter.

Details on the stateside version are forthcoming, but it’s bound to exclude the animated flower petals and speech bubbles that pepper the original. Then again, I’d kind of love to see someone like Michael Douglas with cartoonish graphics highlighting his trek. To check out a clip of the current Korean travel show, see below.



– 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 sweet spots for a stroll.

Would you rather…

… walk along a pristine beach in the Seychelles, or …

couple on seychelles beach



… hike through a lush rain forest in Daintree National Park, Australia?

daintree national park rain forest


The dreamy Seychelles Islands, located in the Indian Ocean, are a popular destination for honeymooners, divers, sailors and beach bums. Start with the main island of Mahe, where there are more than 60 beaches to choose from. Australia’s Daintree Rainforest offers multiple ways to explore, including walks and zip-lines through the canopy.

11 Best Australia Experiences
Madagascar/Mauritius/Seychelles Travel Forum

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter