Home

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Forums Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

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, November 24, 2014, 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.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

two hands holding a paper that says thank youThanksgiving season is a time to take stock of life and focus on all the positives, a time for gratitude and appreciation. With so much of my life centered on travel, I thought I’d take some time this season to reflect on all the people I’ve met on the road — even if just for a moment — for whom I am eternally grateful.

There have been many: men and women, mostly nameless, who have offered a helping hand when I needed one or opened their homes to me when I was far from my own home.

Like the unseen man at the Miami airport who paid for my dinner and gave a $20 bill to my waiter to give to me when all the credit card machines and ATMs in the airport stopped working and I had no cash to pay for food after not eating all day. I never saw his face, only his back as he walked out of the restaurant into the terminal and disappeared in the crowd.

Or the elderly Irish lady in Killarney who ushered me and a friend into her cozy, warm living room when she saw us waiting in the pouring rain under one umbrella on a chilly summer day. She poured us tea, showed us photographs of her children and gave us hug when our bus showed up a half hour later.

12 Best Ireland Experiences

Then there was the kind clerk at a random hotel in Wellington, New Zealand, that I had walked into when I couldn’t bear to stay at a hostel one more night and needed just one night alone. He had no room, but sensing how upset I was, he made some calls for me and then drove me to another hotel on the other side of the city.

13 Best New Zealand Experiences

And I will never forget Blanche and Alex, a 20-something couple whom my sister and I met in the Glasgow train station. We had noticed them because we thought they looked cool and had stopped to ask them where the interesting places to hang out were. Instead of giving us directions, Blanche took us on a tour of the city, invited us back to their apartment and threw a party so we could meet a bunch of people.

10 Best Scotland Experiences

Others who showed me kindness where none was due include the man who picked me and my sister (scraggly-looking backpackers at the time) up on the side of the road in Northern Ireland (with his two small kids in the car) and drove us to the ferry terminal; the ferry employee who stalled the boat’s departure to get us on even though we were late; and the faceless woman on the New Zealand Interislander ferry who pushed a cup of water underneath the bathroom door when she heard me throwing up from motion sickness.

To these people — and the ones I’ve probably forgotten — I say: Thank you. I am grateful for the kindness you showed me.

Express your gratitude to the strangers who have helped you in your travels below.

– written by Dori Saltzman

passengers at airport baggage counterTraveling (and packing) for the holidays this year? We can’t tell you what to expect from the person sitting next to you on your flight — if they are sick, like to snore or have a crying baby sitting on their lap — but we can tell you which baggage fees to expect from your air carrier and how to beat them.

First, make sure your carry-on is complimentary. If not, bring only the most essential items on your person or in a small bag that could be considered your personal effect, and then check the rest. If you are checking a bag, make sure to determine whether prepayment is available online prior to arrival at the airport. Many airlines allow you to pay for checked baggage on their site or app, and sometimes it’s at a reduced price.

The next thing to consider is how much you’re bringing. Always weigh your bags before you arrive at the check-in counter. Guessing a number may be fun on “The Price is Right,” but not so when that number might result in extra fees. If you must pack everything you own, take advantage of all the space you have; that means packing your carry-on and, if you can manage them, two checked bags. We noticed that many of the fees for overweight bags exceed how much it would be to bring two checked bags, so divide your belongings into two suitcases, pay less and potentially have room to pack anything you purchase while you are away.

Our award for the best airline to fly with excess baggage this season goes to Southwest: zero baggage fees unless you fill over capacity, and even then, the overweight fee is less than most. As an added bonus, Southwest also doesn’t charge for things like making changes to a nonrefundable flight. Our vote for the most nickel and diming goes to Spirit. Notorious for added fees, Spirit not only charges more per bag, but might be Scrooge of the airlines with their $2 holiday surcharge. Bah humbug!

Fees for international flights may vary by region, so double-check your carrier’s website to be sure. Also, discounted fees are available for members of most airline loyalty programs.

Happy flying!

Alaska Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $25. Overweight bags are $75.

American Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Delta Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Frontier Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is $25 to $50; first bag is $25 and second $30. Overweight bags are $75.

JetBlue Airways

Fees: None for carry-on or first bag. Second checked bag is $50. Overweight bags are $100.
(Note: Starting in 2015, JetBlue will offer a new fare that doesn’t include a free checked bag.)

Southwest Airlines

Fees: None for carry-on, first or second checked bag. Overweight bags are $75.

Spirit Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is $35 to $100; first bag is $30 to $100 and second bag is $40 to $100. Overweight bags are $25 to $100. A $2 surcharge will be tacked on to existing baggage fees from December 18 through January 5.

United Airlines

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second is $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

US Airways

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag $25 and second is $35. Overweight bags are $100 to $200.

Virgin America

Fees: Carry-on is free; first checked bag is $25 and second bag is $25. Overweight bags are $50 to $100.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

gomadic sunvolt solar chargerDo you know someone who’s always on the road or in the air? You could gift that person with the standard inflatable pillow, ear plugs or luggage, but why not surprise him or her with the true comforts and conveniences of home instead? These items are practical and perfect for use on long international trips, from the plane to the hotel and everywhere in between.

KnowRoaming
This is the answer to every international traveler’s biggest problem: roaming charges. KnowRoaming is a prepaid data sticker that attaches to your phone (in a one-time application) and automatically switches to a local provider upon arrival in a new country. You can pay as you go (rates vary by country) and easily manage usage in the app so there aren’t any surprises; for heavy users, unlimited plans are also available for $7.99 per day. A bonus: Your actual phone number shows up when making calls.

Note: Before you buy this for a friend or family member, make sure you know what type of phone he or she has. KnowRoaming doesn’t operate on Blackberries or CDMA phones. Also, phones must be unlocked prior to a trip — this means network restrictions need to be removed so the phone can operate with a different SIM card. Check KnowRoaming.com for restrictions and guidelines by carrier.

Approximate Cost: $30

Gomadic SunVolt
You’ve heard of multi-device chargers that don’t require outlets (if they’ve already been charged by one, of course), but Gomadic SunVolt doesn’t require outlets at any point. Why? It’s powered by solar energy. Up to two devices can charge at a time, and additional lithium polymer batteries can be purchased to store excess energy for nighttime charges.

Approximate Cost: $100

Christmas Markets: Europe and Beyond

Olloclip 4-in-1 Lens System
Maybe your giftee doesn’t want to lug a big camera and multiple lenses around during a three-week tour of Europe. Instead, consider the gift of an Olloclip 4-in1 Lens System (for iPhones). It offers four views: fish-eye, wide-angle and two macro options. It easily clips on to iPhones and comes with two lens caps and a carrying case.

Approximate Cost: $70

Kikkerland Music Branch 3-Way Headphone Splitter
There’s no need to share a set of headphones with this nifty, inexpensive gadget, ideal for traveling duos or trios. This earphone splitter offers three inputs so two or three people can watch a movie or listen to music together on a laptop (rather than squint at those small airplane screens). It’s also useful for couples with napping youngsters in tow.

Approximate Cost: $10

Satechi USB Portable Humidifier v.1
The Satechi USB Portable Humidifier connects to a water bottle and moistens dry air in hotel rooms (or even at home between trips) — perfect for rehydrating your nose and sinuses after a long-haul flight. When filled with cold water, it also acts as a mister to cool you off on hot days. Other functions include dim lighting for nighttime and aroma diffusing — just add liquid fragrances. To operate, plug into a USB port; it automatically shuts off after eight hours.

Approximate Cost: $30

Escape the Cold: 8 Warm Weather Winter Vacations

– 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 destinations with a pink theme.

When traveling, would you rather…

… check out the pastel-colored architecture in sunny Oranjestad, Aruba

aruba pink architecture



… see thousands of flamingos in Lake Nakuru, Kenya?

flamingos lake nakuru kenya


Aruba’s cheery capital city, Oranjestad, is known for its pastel-colored Dutch architecture. Kenya’s Lake Nakuru National Park is home to some 450 bird species, including the greater and lesser flamingo.

Planning an African Safari

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 countries in the comments below. You have until Monday, November 17, 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 Ginger, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Check out the winning entry below.

natural heritage sites


Stay tuned for further chances to win!

– created by Dori Saltzman

Every so often, when I’m stuck at home between trips and need a little jolt of wanderlust, I wander over to Vimeo.com and go hunting for travel videos. If I can’t be exploring a new place right now, at least I can spend a few minutes living vicariously through someone else’s footage. And there’s no better inspiration for future trips!

For example, check out this dreamy time-lapse video of the midnight sun in Iceland — I guarantee you’ll want to go.



Also shot in Europe but with an entirely different mood and focus is “Barcelona GO!”, which takes viewers on a frenetic trip around this colorful Spanish city, from narrow medieval lanes to grand cathedrals and concert halls:



This video set in India is so vivid I can practically taste the curry:



I’m ending with my favorite — a gorgeous, contemplative look at Japan in wintertime. Keep an eye out for the Jigokudani snow monkeys.



3 Time-Lapse Videos to Get You in the Mood for Traveling

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Some branding partnerships are questionable — Justin Bieber and perfume, Taco Bell and Doritos — but Pantone’s decision to create a hotel in Brussels just makes sense. Pantone, considered a leading authority on color, built its Belgian hotel in 2010 and as we read up in this post on Fast Company magazine’s website, the rooms are, well, colorful.

pantone room


The Pantone Hotel was designed by architect Olivier Hannaert and decorated by interior designer Michel Penneman. The design is minimalist, but the touches of color extend from a curated photo series for each of the 59 rooms by Belgian photographer Victor Levy to coffee cups, bicycles, even the toilet paper. Stretches of hallway may be tangerine, and here, accent blankets are always intentional.

pantone hotel


9 Amazing Upscale Hostels

toilet paper at Pantone hotel


Part of a larger concept for the company known as Pantone Universe, the hotel is just part of the color swatch experts’ takeover of all things under the rainbow. A color of the year has been selected annually since 2000, and in a partnership with Sephora, a makeup line is created to play up the shade of the year. (You only have one more month to bathe in radiant orchid, or Pantone color 18-3224, before 2015 washes it away.) Online, the number of Pantone-related products colors the spectrum — if you need to brighten your day, visit their website. We’re not sure if the concept will ever become a chain, but if you’re in Brussels and want to experiment with how color might change your mood, the Pantone Hotel has a very specific number and letter for that.

6 More Sweet Hotels in Brussels

breakfast at Pantone hotel


Inspired by Pantone’s imaginative entry into hospitality, which other brands or products would you like to see with overnight accommodations? I think an [insert your favorite brand of coffee here] hotel would allow guests to at least be caffeinated, if not well rested. Share your ideas in the comments.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

selfieMaybe you’ve landed on a glacier in Alaska, ridden a donkey in Greece or hiked to a mountaintop monastery in Tibet. Whatever the experience, it’s likely you’ve got photos to share or, at the very least, stories to tell. The question is: Should you?

With selfie rates at an all-time high and social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter just a tap away, it’s tough to exercise restraint when you’re excited about your once-in-a-lifetime trip. According to a recent New York Times article, though, your friends might not be quite as excited about your exploits as you are; if you’re not careful, your posts could be considered bragging.

For me, Facebook mainly functions as a storage facility for my photos. From there, they’re easy to find and reference, should I need to pull one of them for a story. I try my best not to caption them with anything other than facts, and you’ll rarely — if ever — see me posting photos of myself individually. Has anyone ever asked me to stop posting travel albums? No. Do people secretly want me to? Possibly.

If you’re one of those people, there are some quick and easy solutions: 1) Hide my content. I’ll never know. 2) Unfriend me. If my (infrequent) posts are that bothersome to you, we probably shouldn’t be friends anyway.

16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

To those who actually do brag about their travel adventures, please stop ruining it for the rest of us. You’re as bad as people who take photos of every single piece of food they eat, let the world know that they’re at the gym by posting endless workout selfies or update their statuses whenever their children get sick … or say a new word … or use the bathroom. #obnoxious #reallyobnoxious #almostasobnoxiousaspeoplewhohashtageverythingfornoreason

When it comes to sharing about your travels on social media, what’s your take? Do you post, or do you keep your experiences to yourself? Be sure to leave your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

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 religious buildings in incredible locations.

When traveling, would you rather…

… explore a floating mosque in Malaysia, or …

kota kinabalu floating mosque malaysia



… visit a clifftop monastery in Greece?

monastery of the holy trinity meteora greece


Malaysia is home to several mosques built over the water to give them the appearance of floating. The one above is in Kota Kinabalu. In Meteora, Greece, visitors can check out a half-dozen spectacular monasteries built atop massive rocks. Shown here is the Holy Trinity Monastery, which can be reached via a steep uphill hike. (If you’re not up to the physical challenge, visit the more accessible St. Stephen’s Monastery instead.)

9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– written by Sarah Schlichter