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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: This city is home to thousands of farms and gardens, as well as one of the world’s tallest free-standing totem poles.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 25, 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.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

close up detail of rome's trevi fountain sculpturesYou’re in Rome for the first time. You’ve got your euro penny in hand to throw into Trevi Fountain. You’ve been thinking about what wish you’re going to make since you first stepped off the plane at Leonardo da Vinci International Airport. But when you get there the fountain is dry, enclosed in scaffolding with only a small metal bridge for limited access. Signs in several languages warn against throwing coins. Your wish dies on the tip of your tongue. You’ve come all the way to Rome, and one of the main sites you wanted to see is closed.

Many travelers have faced a similar situation on their journeys. (Trevi Fountain will remain closed to the public through fall 2015, for example.) Logically we understand it. Buildings, attractions and works of art that have been around for hundreds of years or more must be maintained so they’re around for hundreds more. There are no promises they’ll be open or on display for you on the day you visit.

11 Best Italy Experiences

But when it’s something you had your heart set on seeing, logic goes out the window. Disappointment and anger mingle, and your satisfaction with your vacation dims just a bit — or a lot, depending on just how important seeing that attraction was to you.

The best way to avoid this situation is to research your trip ahead of time and temper your expectations. It’s not just renovations that can upend your plans; traveling during a national holiday you didn’t know about could leave you standing outside the locked doors of that museum you were hoping to visit.

If you have always wanted to see the Mona Lisa and are thinking about a trip to Paris, check to make sure that the Louvre will be open at the time you’re planning on visiting. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, as well as annually on May 1, July 14 and December 25. When preplanning your visit, make sure to slot in the Louvre on any day but one of these.

12 Best France Experiences

Attraction hours are easy to find, but how do you find out about other events that might prevent you from seeing the attractions you want? Your best bet is to contact the tourist board of the destination you’re visiting. Country tourist boards are okay, but if there’s one for the city you’ll be in that’s better. Give someone at the tourist board a call. Ask if there are any renovations going on at the attractions you want to visit. Ask if they are aware of any protests planned. (In April 2015 the Eiffel Tower was closed down for part of day during massive anti-government protests.)

There is no way to guarantee you’ll never be on the outside looking in at an attraction you wanted to visit. If you can (and we recognize it’s really difficult), try not to get your heart set on anything. Every destination has multiple attractions, and missing out on one does not have to ruin your trip.

Have you ever visited a city with your heart set on seeing something specific only to find it closed when you got there?

— written by Dori Saltzman

Unless you’re a first-time flier and everything is shiny and new, it can be awfully hard to pay attention to the safety video onboard your flight; either you’ve heard it all before, you assume it’s common sense or you’re breathing into a bag because you’re already that nervous to fly.

Air New Zealand is among the airlines who’ve made a noticeable effort to infuse some entertainment value into this necessary safety briefing (last year Delta went ’80s and Virgin America flight attendants rocked out). From a Lord of the Rings-style presentation to cameos by Betty White, Richard Simmons and President Obama, Air New Zealand has set the standard for high-budget safety cinema.

In the airline’s latest installment, shot in stunning surf locations such as Malibu, Australia’s Gold Coast and Raglan and Piha, New Zealand, “Air New Zealand’s Safety Safari” showcases world surfing champions Gabriel Medina of Brazil, Australian Mick Fanning and American surfers Laird Hamilton, Alana Blanchard and Anastasia Ashley as they breezily guide you through in-flight safety.



If you’re a fan of beautiful, smiling people running around world-famous beaches and instructing you with charming accents, then you won’t be bored. However, because they are beautiful people running and surfing around (at times shirtless) on world-famous beaches in charming accents, you also might be too distracted to glean the important safety information. Now if only emergency lighting on airplanes were as enchanting as paper lanterns…

In conjunction with the Safety Safari video, Air New Zealand is hosting a contest giving away a Malibu surf lesson for two with legendary surfer Laird Hamilton, roundtrip air to Los Angeles, a five-night stay in Santa Monica and a five-day rental car.

13 Best New Zealand Experiences
11 Best Australia Experiences

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

singers cuba el tanqueRecent changes from President Obama mean that it’s gotten significantly easier for Americans to visit Cuba, but they must still travel under one of 12 categories mandated by the U.S. government. A research trip or a visit to see family? No problem. A beach vacation or simple sightseeing? Those are a no-go. (For the full list of legal categories, see Can Americans Travel to Cuba? Yes — and Here’s How.)

For those of us who aren’t journalists, professors or baseball players starring in an exhibition game, the easiest way to get to Cuba is with a company operating “people-to-people” tours, which fall under the umbrella of Educational Activities as far as the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is concerned. These trips focus on cultural exchange by putting American visitors directly in contact with the Cubans themselves — often in ways that would be difficult or even impossible to arrange on your own.

I recently traveled on such an itinerary with smarTours, which arranged numerous people-to-people activities during our four days in Havana. One highlight was a visit to El Tanque, where an abandoned water tank that used to service steam trains has been transformed into a bustling community center where neighborhood kids can learn painting, music, ceramics, dancing, theater and filmmaking. Several of the instructors gave us an impromptu musical performance before answering questions about the project, giving us insight into how economically challenged neighborhoods in Havana are supporting themselves from within.

5 Things You Need to Know About Traveling to Cuba Now

cuba photographer artist lorenzo lopez sheningThe interactive experiences continued throughout the trip. We ate lunch one day with a local magazine writer, the next with a retired pitcher who’d played for various Cuban baseball teams. We were treated to a private concert by Ele, a dynamic singing group, as well as a performance by incredibly talented children who were studying acrobatics and other circus skills as part of an after-school program called Angels of the Future. (One child swung from the ceiling; another contorted herself into painful-looking poses; still another stood barefoot on his friend’s head!) On our last day in Cuba, we were welcomed into the home of a local artist/photographer, who generously spent an hour answering our group’s questions about his life, his work and the future of Cuba.

While I loved strolling the streets of Old Havana and watching the Buena Vista Social Club perform at our hotel — activities I could’ve done easily on an independent trip — it was the people-to-people aspects of the itinerary that proved to be the most informative and rewarding. At this pivotal point in Cuban history, it was important to hear the voices of the people themselves, expressing their hopes and fears about what’s ahead. (“After the embargo” was a phrase we heard over and over again.)

Yes, group trips have their drawbacks, especially if you love wandering and prefer your schedule to be your own. And I support the right of all American travelers to visit Cuba independently when it’s legal to do so. But I hope that even after all the restrictions are gone, there will still be companies offering people-to-people itineraries in Cuba — because there are few better ways to understand and appreciate this unique culture.

Read About Other Travelers’ Experiences in Cuba

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

prague czech republic


Population: 10.6 million

Currency: Czech koruna

Phrase to Know: Dobry den (hello/good day)

Fun Fact: The Czech people consume more beer per capita than anyone else in the world, beating out the Irish in second place.

We Recommend: Join the locals in foraging for wild mushrooms, a popular hobby during the summer and fall in the Czech Republic.

10 Best Czech Republic Experiences

Have you been to the Czech Republic? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

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, May 18, 2015, 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 Nancy James, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Swaziland. Nancy has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

If you’ve ever had a travel-size bottle of shampoo or lotion leak all over the inside of your suitcase, you might be a good candidate to try a new brand of toiletries called Squeeze Pod. As the name suggests, these are stored in lightweight, single-use “pods” that can be squeezed to dispense each product. They’re designed not to leak until you break the seal; after use, you simply throw them away.

Check out this quick video about how they work:


I tried out a variety of Squeeze Pod products on a recent trip to Cuba. I found that the toiletries were pleasantly scented and did their job just fine. The only slight exception was the toilet odor eliminator, which didn’t entirely banish the smell I needed banished, but helped matters significantly by masking it with a clean, eucalyptus-tinted fragrance. All Squeeze Pod toiletries are vegan, sulfate-free, made in the U.S. and not tested on animals.

My only hitch was actually opening the pods. It’s important to break the seal by pulling the tab up toward the colored side of the packaging, not the other way. (The pods I tested didn’t have this labeled, but a spokesperson says the company is hoping to add clearer instructions in the future, as well as experimenting with different kinds of plastic that would only bend in one direction.) Pulling the tab the wrong way at first causes the seal not to break cleanly, leaving me spurting shampoo all over the shower wall on one occasion, and having to squeeze with a wrestler’s strength to eke the gel out through a too-tiny hole on several other occasions.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

squeeze pod variety packSqueeze Pod currently has five products for sale on its website: toilet odor eliminator, moisturizing lotion, hair gel, shave cream and hand purifier. Four of the other toiletries I was able to try are not currently for sale, but the company tells us they’re coming in June: shampoo, conditioner, facial cleanser and body wash. The cost ranges from $1.49 for a three-pack of hand purifier to $120 for a sampler of more than 225 pods of various types.

Want to try these toiletries out for yourself? We’re giving away a variety pack that includes two to three pods each of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, facial cleanser, toilet odor eliminator, shaving cream, hand purifier, moisturizing lotion and hair gel. Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on May 31, 2015. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the variety pack. 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

lanai, hawaii sweetheart rockIf you’re planning on visiting the small island of Lanai — just off of Maui — any time before mid-2016, you might not be able to stay there. Larry Ellison, ranked the fifth wealthiest person in the world, purchased 98 percent of the island in 2012 — a steal at $300 million. According to a story on Road Warrior Voices, affiliated with USA Today Travel, Ellison has closed most of the island’s accommodations in order to make Lanai “the first economically viable, 100 percent green community.” Just 11 hotel rooms remain available, located at the Hotel Lanai. Both of the island’s Four Seasons properties — totaling 303 rooms — will be closed, allowing for construction workers to stay at one property, the Lodge at Koele, while they renovate the other, the Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay. Both properties are set to reopen later this year.

Editor’s Note: Visitors can still reach Lanai via day trips from Maui.

Ellison, former CEO of the software company Oracle Corporation, has been described by a biographer as a “modern-day Genghis Khan,” according to an article in the New York Times, more for his intense and extravagant style than any war games. However, Lanai has had a history of dictatorships — by Mormons, pineapple-growers, other billionaires and, as legend has it, a god of nightmares. Luckily, residents seem to be grateful for the new owner and his bold vision for the island, according to interviews in the Times article. This vision includes infrastructure such as bigger airport runways and a state-of-the-art desalination plant as well as organic wineries, a film studio and a bowling alley.

“He is renewing, refreshing, rejuvenating every part of the island,” a woman named Mimi Evangelista told the Times. “I feel blessed, blessed beyond my wildest dreams.”

However, not everyone on the island is fully in support of how Pulama Lanai, Ellison’s management company (he never attends meetings or addresses residents in person), communicates its plans for the island. (Jon Mooallem, the author of the Times article, encountered a near code of silence.)

Despite any changes taking place over the next year, only time will tell how one man’s vision — in a line of many — will pan out for Hawaiian island of Lanai, home to 3,200 residents and a potential vacation destination for countless travelers.

Check Out 5 Top-Rated Honolulu Hotels

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

airplane frustrated womanThere’s one on every plane: a person who kicks the back of your seat, puts stinky feet in your general vicinity, gives the flight attendant a hard time or just plain forgets to shower before a long-haul flight. With the dawn of social media accounts like Passenger Shaming, it’s becoming easier to publicly call out the cretins who can’t seem to mind their in-flight manners. But one fed-up flier, Mun Yee, crafted an eloquent letter to chastise a particularly awful flightmate on a recent trip from Singapore to Sydney.

“Despite my common economy seat, you offered me a full back massage by repeatedly kicking the back of [my] chair,” Yee writes. “To date, I have yet to regain full mobility of the lower half of my body.

“Also, could you tell me where you bought those obnoxious snacks? I assume that they must have been delicious ’cause you rip[ped] one open every 30 minutes.”

Reports of excessively loud talking also appear in the letter, as does this:

“… my nose was assaulted by a putrid smell of death and decay. It was so nice of you to take off your shoes and put your feet between my seat and the plane window.”

Patrick Stewart Hilariously Acts Out 5 Most Annoying Fliers

We want to give a shout-out to you, Mun Yee. We congratulate you, sympathize with you and hope your letter reaches the eyes of anyone who thinks this conduct is socially acceptable.

What’s the worst behavior you’ve encountered on a flight? Be sure to comment below.

JetBlue Introduces Funny Flight Etiquette Videos

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

Every week in our “Spotlight on …” feature, we’ll highlight a different country around the world.

patagonia mountains argentina hiker


Population: 43 million

Currency: Argentine peso

Phrase to Know: No entiendo (I don’t understand)

Fun Fact: Buenos Aires is home to one of the world’s widest avenues; 9 de Julio Avenue stretches up to seven lanes in each direction.

We Recommend: Take a cruise at the edge of the world in Ushuaia, one of the planet’s southernmost cities. The nearby Beagle Channel is home to sea lions, albatrosses and other wildlife.

10 Best Argentina Experiences

Have you been to Argentina? What was your favorite spot?

— written by Sarah Schlichter