Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.
Population: 5.2 million
Currency: Norwegian krone
Phrase to Know: Snakkar du engelsk? (Do you speak English?)
Fun Fact: Dying is forbidden in the Norwegian community of Longyearbyen, located above the Arctic Circle in the Svalbard archipelago. According to the BBC, the cemetery in this small town no longer accepts new bodies because they don’t decompose in the area’s permafrost. Locals who become seriously ill or who die unexpectedly must be flown to the mainland.
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: With marble from Italy, granite from Shanghai, crystal chandeliers from England, and carpets from Saudi Arabia, this multinational mosque is actually located in a tiny nation with one of the highest standards of living in the world. Can you guess where this photo was taken?
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, July 27, 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 prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.
Earlier this year, JetBlue introduced a new series of Flight Etiquette videos that gently mock the egregious behavior of some air travelers — like the person who falls asleep and drools on your shoulder. Or the guy who brings a foul-smelling lunch that stinks up the whole cabin. Or the woman who shares her entire life story over the course of a three-hour flight.
The latest installment of the series addresses the people often called “gate lice” — folks who are so desperate to get on the plane that they crowd around the gate well before their own boarding zone is called. The video made me laugh out loud a few times:
While it’s easy to make fun of these overly aggressive travelers, it’s also worth asking whether this is something the airlines have brought upon themselves. Many fliers are eager to board as early as possible because they know there’s not enough overhead bin space for everyone’s carry-ons, especially now that so many of us are trying to avoid paying extra to check a bag. The fact that JetBlue recently added fees for the first checked bag will probably only make the airline’s gate lice problem worse, not better — no matter how many funny videos it puts out.
Vancouver, a diverse seaport and the largest city in British Columbia, is a perfect place to explore on your own. Solo travelers can sample their way through the sensory-exploding market of Granville Island or avoid the rain under the enchanting overhang of a traditional Chinese garden. If you are independently exploring Vancouver, make sure not to miss the five best things to do around the city for solo travelers.
Walk (or Bike) the Seawall
The Seaside Greenway, a 17.4-mile pedestrian and bike path encircling scenic parts of Vancouver, is the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront pathway. The Seawall is a stunning portion of this pathway, surrounding the city’s massive Stanley Park and extending past charming English Bay beaches. With restrictions that dictate direction, pedestrian-only lanes and walk-your-bike areas (at times the path becomes extremely narrow), this picturesque path is best enjoyed solo as you take in the sights. A 5.6-mile stretch, the Seawall takes an estimated two to three hours to walk and one hour to cycle.
Savor a Meal
While dining out in any new city can be a great way to experience the local culture as well its unique food scene, eating alone in Vancouver proved to be satisfying in a different way. Whereas “table for one?” might be uttered with a tinge of dismay in certain swanky metropolitan eateries, I always felt welcomed — even special, and in a strange way, brave –for dining solo in Vancouver. Servers happily chatted about the menu and weren’t hesitant to spend time at my table. Grabbing a paper or people-watching during my meals, I made an effort to not even pick up my phone (hence no foodie photos!). In the trendy Gastown district (where I stayed) try Acme Cafe for comfort food (51 W. Hastings St.); Nuba for delightful Lebanese (various locations — I visited 207 W. Hastings St.); and Bao Bei, a Chinese brasserie (163 Keefer St.).
Visit an Authentic Chinese Garden
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, located within Vancouver’s Chinatown, is an authentic representation of a Ming Dynasty-era scholar’s garden — the first of its kind outside of China. Calming water features and traditional architecture (complete with the smell of teak wood) contrast peacefully with the city skyline in the background. This is a great place for solo travelers to escape with their thoughts and reflect — and because of the roof design, it’s even better in the rain.
Explore Science World
While I experienced unparalleled sunny weather in Vancouver during my visit in late June, the region is known for rain. If you’re looking for a way to spend a gray day that won’t require being cooped up or stuck shopping, take a visit to Science World. A sparkling geodesic dome, towering metal dinosaur and Mondrian-like exterior invite you into a museum with intricate exhibits that will keep you occupied for hours. Can’t bear the thought of wading through crowds of kids? Science World hosts occasional After Dark adult evenings featuring special guests such as the animators from “Jurassic World” — check ScienceWorld.ca for details.
Spend a Day at Granville Island
You could throw a stone to Granville Island; it’s that close to downtown Vancouver. Short of swimming there, you can take a ferry across False Creek (or have a taxi or tour bus drop you off — buses aren’t allowed past a certain point). Alone with nothing but your five senses, Granville Island offers a feast for all of them. There’s plenty to keep you occupied here, from beer tasting at Granville Brewing Company to seasonal live music to endless artsy shops (including fun independent toy stores). But our favorite stop is the public market, featuring a smorgasbord of fresh food and gourmet delights. If you’re missing human interaction, consider taking a tour with Vancouver Foodie Tours, which allows you to sample the market’s many goodies while meeting other travelers along the way.
While air travelers continue to suffer through carry-on fees and legroom reductions, their furry friends can enjoy spa treatments and splash pools in a new $48 million facility dedicated to the pre-flight comfort of pets.
The New York Post reports that, in 2016, John F. Kennedy Airport in New York will open the Ark Terminal, featuring a 20,000-square-foot facility where dogs can romp, a faux jungle setup where cats can climb trees, and even special stalls for larger animals like horses and cows, complete with showers and hoof-friendly flooring. Massages are on the list of amenities as well.
The Ark will also offer boarding for pets who aren’t actually traveling with their humans. The cost? A mere $100 per night for access to human-sized beds and the use of flat-screen TVs.
It all sounds a little over the top, but an article in Crain’s New York Business notes that the new terminal will serve some very real needs. The current facility used for animals passing through JFK dates back to the 1950s, and the nearest federal quarantine center is two hours away, requiring a tedious and pricey side trip. The new terminal will have a quarantine facility right on site.
Crain’s also reports that animal travel is on the rise; shipments of various creatures through the New York metro area have risen by 28 percent over the past three years.
Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.
Population: 15.6 million
Currency: U.S. dollar
Phrase to Know: Lo siento (I’m sorry)
Fun Fact: Ecuador began using the U.S. dollar in the year 2000, after a banking crisis devalued its former currency (the sucre). But it’s not all familiar greenbacks: The country mints its own coins for amounts under $1.
We Recommend: Visit an indigenous community to learn ceremonial dances, ride in dugout canoes or just get to know the people.
This week’s travel puzzle is part of our ongoing Flag Friday series of challenges. Can you identify which nation the following flag belongs to?
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, July 20, 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 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 Terri Cook, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Grenada. Terri has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!
Between baggage fees, shrinking seats and shoddy service, flying makes many travelers pretty cranky these days — so why not take a look back at what life in the skies used to be like?
The following vintage airline commercials offer that trip back in time, although in some cases it seems like not much has changed. (Yes, even in the 70s and 80s fliers were bemoaning crowded airports and lack of service in economy class.) Have a look — and a laugh!
First up is a funny Southern Airways ad from the 1970s that lampoons the difference between first class and coach:
Peter Sellers plays out every cheesy (and sleazy) Italian stereotype in this 1970s ad for TWA:
I’m not sure anyone’s ever been so thrilled to land in Kansas City as this 1980s Eastern Air Lines passenger:
I’m cheating a little with this next one, which is from the mid-2000s and therefore doesn’t really count as a “vintage” commercial — but it too features a now-defunct airline (Continental):
Forget the weeklong family vacation; it seems parents and their children are hitting the road for months at a time, across borders and thousands of miles, in a new wave of family travel that seeks to educate through global experiences.
This morning I came across a story on Yahoo Travel about a 10-year-old girl who blogs about her worldly experiences, having visited more than 30 countries in her first decade on this planet. Tatum Oxenreider and her two brothers live a migratory life with their parents, who work remotely (you can say that again) for a nonprofit organization while chronicling their journeys on their website, “The Art of Simple Travel.” Tsh, Tatum’s mother and an author of books on travel and simplicity, believes that the world is the best teacher possible.
Thinking about the Oxenreiders reminded me of another family: the Kirkbys. Stars of “Big Crazy Family Adventure” on the Travel Channel, this family of four — with two young sons, ages 7 and 4 — documented their travels across 13,000 miles from British Columbia to the Himalayas without taking a single airplane. While there’s an expected amount of groaning from the kids, who tire of some more tedious parts of travel — such as hikes intended to acclimate them to an increase in altitude — for the most part, the family remains upbeat and embraces every chance they can to introduce their young ones to a new cultural experience (including the crunchy scorpions both boys ate with gusto in China).
Out of curiosity I searched online for families traveling the world — and there are plenty. Meet the Nomadic Family, a clan of five from Israel who offer insight and tips from their journeys wandering the world for three years, as well as the decision they made to stop traveling and how that transition back to home life has been. Other families are doing it without tracking the trek via a blog or website. Last year the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler wrote an editorial piece on the Maurers, a family of four (children, ages 15 and 12) traveling from Southeast Asia to Nepal to Europe on $150 a day. Over 10 months, some of the challenges and lessons they faced were strange and difficult. For example, the father and daughter — adopted from Korea — could not walk alone together in Thailand, as they would be often misconstrued as a couple. The parents also faced harsh criticism from home for having their children out of school for a year, despite unconventional home schooling along the way.
And then there’s our own story of a couple who hit the open road (and skies and rivers…) with their three young sons to explore South and Central America. In the interview, the DeSas discuss challenges like traveling through airports while keeping hands free to hold on to the kids, or not being able to find foods they crave in a new place on a tight budget. However, the lack of chocolate chip cookies is more than made up for with experiences like making their own chocolate from scratch in Ecuador.
I don’t yet have a family of my own, so I can’t speak to whether I would bring children on such a long trip, but I know I certainly would’ve enjoyed it as a child myself. Would you embark on a trip around the world with your family? Tell us in the comments.
Wendy Perrin is one of the world’s leading travel experts, known to many readers as a longtime columnist and consumer news director for Conde Nast Traveler. These days she serves as the Travel Advocate for our parent company, TripAdvisor, and maintains her own travel site at WendyPerrin.com. We sat down with Wendy to ask her about some of the key lessons she’s learned over her decades of working in travel — and to find out which destinations are still on her bucket list.
IndependentTraveler.com: What’s the most common mistake you see travelers make when planning a trip?
Wendy Perrin: Failing to take into account the lay of the land, distances between places and other local logistics. They end up wasting a lot of time at their destination, and missing important experiences and hidden gems, because of inefficiency, timing mistakes, waits and lines they could have bypassed, hassles they could have avoided. I don’t see any booking engine or app solving this problem. And it’s the reason why I created my WOW List. Travelers can experience twice as much in half the time if they book their trip through one of my WOW List travel fixers. They know the ins and outs of their destination and get you the access and perks you didn’t realize you’d need. Once you’ve planned a trip with one — and have experienced how they get you to the right place at the right time on the right day of the week, introduce you to people you could never meet on your own and make the lines disappear — you never want to take another trip without one.
IT: Can you share one or two of the most memorable experiences such experts have arranged for your own trips?
WP: I could share a hundred. But one such experience was when I got inside the secret Renaissance passageway in Florence, Italy, that runs from the Uffizi Gallery across the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace. It’s called the Vasari Corridor, and it was built by the Medicis so they could walk between their workplace and residence invisibly, spying on their subjects from on high. The passageway houses the world’s largest collection of self-portraits by artists, and also provides some of Florence’s best views, but that’s not even what makes it so cool. The thrill is how it makes Florence’s history and secrecy come to life in such a visceral way. As the passageway winds this way and that, growing narrower and darker and more rough-hewn, it feels like you’re walking back in time. Alone in the tunnel with your guide, peering down into the shops on the bridge, into hotel rooms on the river, even into the church balcony that the Medicis used, you feel the power that the Medicis must have felt. Seeing without being seen, you get to be a spy like them.
Another memorable experience happened in southeastern Turkey, where one of my Trusted Travel Experts arranged access to Rumkale (Turkish for “Roman castle”), an ancient fortress that sits on an outcrop some 500 feet above the Euphrates. The fortress has not been restored: There are no paths or railings or tickets, much less guards or postcard vendors. There’s simply nobody there. You have a Roman ruin all to yourself (including the 230-foot-deep well where, local legend has it, Narcissus saw his reflection in the water, fell in love with it, reached in to grab it and fell down the well to his death). The view from Rumkale is spectacular in every direction: The fortress is surrounded almost entirely by water, and across the river, carved into the cliffs, are hundreds of caves. Someday some hotel entrepreneur is going to turn those caves into glass-walled river-view suites. And that was the thrill: Seeing an ancient site before it gets developed. I’ve clambered around my share of Roman ruins — including gems like Baalbek in Lebanon and Palmyra in Syria — but Rumkale is the ultimate.
IT: What’s one travel lesson that’s taken you a long time to learn?
WP: Take off your watch.
IT: Can you share your funniest travel moment?
WP: Well, it wasn’t funny at the time, but it was the transcontinental flight when both children threw up on my husband, one after the other. That lovely episode yielded one of my carry-on-luggage tips for parents: Don’t just pack a change of clothing for your kid — pack one for yourself too.
IT: After decades of traveling, which destinations or experiences are still on your bucket list?
WP: Well, my bucket list starts with any place I haven’t been. That includes Oman, Uzbekistan, French Polynesia, Nova Scotia, Mount Rushmore and a slew of islands worldwide, from Gozo to Vanuatu to Zanzibar. And then my bucket list continues with every place I’ve already been to but not with my kids … yet. They would love New Zealand, the Galapagos Islands, Jordan, Newfoundland, Zion National Park…. Funny thing about my bucket list: The more of it I do, the longer it gets. The more places I go, the more I realize there is to experience there, and the more I want to go back and do what I missed the first time, or do it with certain people who weren’t there the first time.
IT: If you could only use one app on your next trip, which would you choose?
WP: I use TripAdvisor a lot on business trips, but when my goal is to immerse myself in a foreign culture, my preference is to use no apps at all and instead get the info by asking the locals.
IT: What advice would you give travelers who may not have a luxury budget but want to upgrade their trip in meaningful ways?
WP: Choose a destination where the exchange rate works in your favor. Go in shoulder season (that window of time between high and low seasons, when rates have dropped yet conditions are good for the activities you have in mind). Get a credit card that makes flying more tolerable by giving you lounge access, free luggage, express security lanes, priority boarding, extra legroom, whatever you can get. Grab breakfast outside the hotel at a bakery or coffee shop where the locals hang (unless breakfast is included in the room rate). Have picnics in pretty locales with provisions you buy at colorful local markets. And climb steps: Often there are two ways to get to the top of a site (whether it’s an ancient fortress, a church cupola with a view or the Eiffel Tower), and often you have a choice between an elevator and the stairs. Usually the elevator costs more, has a line and is not as atmospheric as the steps. Plus you get exercise — which means you needn’t splurge on a hotel with a gym.
— interview conducted by Sarah Schlichter
Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.