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Each month, we’ll highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

itusukushima shrineIn this month’s featured review, reader Eric Overn shares advice from a couple of business trips to Japan: “It helps to learn a Japanese character of the city you’ll be staying at or going to, if using the local trains,” writes Eric. “Knowing just one character will help you locate your city on the route map. ‘Yama’ looks like a square ‘W.’ Toku-yama, Yama-guchi.”

Read the rest of Eric’s review here: Japan Trip. Eric has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airport baggage claimBy next year, there may only be one airline in the U.S. that lets fliers check a bag for free.

While both JetBlue and Southwest currently allow travelers to bring aboard a complimentary checked bag (Southwest even lets you have two!), Bloomberg reports that JetBlue is looking into overhauling its ticket pricing structure, which will likely lead to a few extra fees for those who pay the cheapest possible fare.

According to Bloomberg, the airline plans to create multiple fare classes, some of which would include a free bag and/or other services. Fliers could pay a higher rate for a more inclusive fare, or pony up for their checked bag if they elect the cheapest available fare. The changes are expected to take effect within the first six months of 2015.

This sort of bundling isn’t new. Frontier Airlines and Air Canada are among the carriers that currently offer multiple fare options when booking. Frontier’s Classic Plus fares are fully refundable and include a free checked bag, extra legroom and a beverage, while its bare-bones Economy fares are cheaper and include none of the above. Air Canada offers Tango, Flex and Latitude fares, each of which comes with different benefits (or lack thereof) such as waived change fees, priority check-in and standby privileges. (Worth noting: In all three of Air Canada’s fare classes you’ll have to pay for checked bags.)

How to Hack Your Way to a Cheaper Airfare

Naturally, JetBlue’s proposed changes are all about money; Bloomberg reports that the airline’s profits trail those of its competitors. I know airlines aren’t charities and they need to make a buck, but it’s still a bummer for those of us who appreciate companies that don’t try to nickel and dime us.

Will you still fly JetBlue if these changes go into effect?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

hotel monaco philadelphiaHotel rewards programs are great if you frequent the same chains on a regular basis, but the offerings and perks are pretty standard, as are the ways of accruing elite status. After a while, free Wi-Fi and extra nights all start to sound the same.

Apparently, that’s what the folks over at Kimpton thought too when they unveiled the chain’s new Kimpton Karma loyalty system. Replacing the brand’s former InTouch program, Kimpton Karma offers four tiers; you’ll be registered for Tier 1 by just signing up. You’ll reach Tier 2 with three stays or 10 nights (whichever comes first), Tier 3 with seven stays or 20 nights, and the Inner Circle with 14 stays or 40 nights.

The perks for everyone — even Tier 1 — include free Wi-Fi and a minibar credit, but the extras for higher tiers are pretty enticing: free nights, priority late check-out, dining offers and even direct access to Kimpton’s CEO when you reach the Inner Circle level.

7 Smart Reasons to Join a Hotel Rewards Program

The best part, however, is that you can get rewards in ways that go beyond just staying another night. In a statement about the new program, Kimpton says guests can get credit for things like mentioning their hotel on social media, booking directly through the chain’s website or even traveling with a pet. Sounds good to us!

What do you think? Do you belong to any hotel rewards programs? What do you like most about them, and what do you think can be done to jazz them up a bit? Leave your comments below.

10 Hidden Ways to Save at Hotels

– 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 places with spiritual significance to their respective cultures.

Would you rather…

… trek to Lamayuru, a Buddhist monastery in the mountains of Ladakh, India, or …

lamayuru monastery india



… visit the ruins of Xunantunich in Belize?

xunantunich mayan ruins belize


India’s remote Lamayuru Monastery, once home to as many as 450 Buddhist monks, is best reached by a difficult but spectacular two-week trek through the mountains of Ladakh. (Banjara Camps & Retreats is one company that offers trips.) Easier to reach are the ruins of Xunantunich in Belize, accessible by car and various tours. The site includes the ruins of several temples dedicated to Mayan gods.

India Trip Reviews
Belize Trip Reviews

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!

harbor city



Hint: This scenic harbor city is home to the most inhabitants in the country ( a country on many travel wish lists). Can you name the city?

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, July 28, 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 Beth Coleman, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Auckland, New Zealand. Beth has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Machu Picchu, PeruWhen you work in travel, everywhere is somewhere you want to go at some point, and for that reason, Peru has been on my own must-visit list for a while. But it wasn’t until the photos, stories and travel plans of various friends began to pour in across social media recently that I realized I hadn’t given this destination its due: Peru is most certainly having a moment.

Machu Picchu was voted the top landmark in the world this year in TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice awards, and Conde Nast Traveler highlighted Peru among up-and-coming foodie hot spots in a round-up of 2014 travel trends. Chef-guided culinary market tours, Pisco distilleries, vineyards and the chocolate museum in Cuzco attract travelers looking to both see and taste the South American nation often called its gastronomic capital.

Slideshow: 10 Best Peru Experiences

Peru was on Jamey Bergman’s bucket list, the U.K. Production and River Section Editor of our sister site, Cruise Critic. He has since checked it off, and shared with us what it was like to experience one of his bucket list destinations:

“I had high expectations for my visit to Machu Picchu, and my experience there was totally unforgettable. We arranged local transport (train to Aguas Calientes from Cuzco and bus to the site), and arrived just before dawn. We had the place to ourselves for a couple of hours before all the tour groups arrived, and it was magical. We hiked up to the Sun Gate for sunrise, and spent the rest of the day exploring the ruins. It’s profound to visit a place that meant so much to an ancient culture that’s completely disappeared. “

Is Peru on your list? Do you have a story of a bucket list destination that you’ve been able to cross off? Share with us in the comments.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

A canyon at Australia's UluruOf the five destinations on my ultimate travel bucket list, I have managed to tick off one so far: Australia. And it was everything I could have hoped for — which was fortunate because, as with many bucket list trips, it was expensive and required a serious time commitment.

But was it really fortunate?

No, it wasn’t.

You see, just stepping foot on Australian soil isn’t what made going there such an amazing bucket list trip for me. It was that I did it the “right” way. The right way for me, that is.

Australia is a huge country with lots to offer visitors. There are the vibrant cities in which you’ll find art museums, fine dining and lots of shopping; unrivaled natural attractions from the barren but beautiful Outback to the Great Barrier Reef teeming with life; a colorful criminal past and a rich Aboriginal culture. And then there are the Aussies themselves, laidback folks with a great sense of humor and a love for beer and barbecue.

But which part of this vast Down Under do you take in? Do you try to see it all, spending just a little time in any one place? Do you narrow it down and pick out just a few highlights, ignoring all else? How do you make such a once-in-a-lifetime trip as special as it can be, so that it truly is a bucket list experience?

Ask
In order to make any trip all you want it to be, you must first ask yourself, “Why am I going here?”

There is no wrong or right answer, but be honest with yourself, as the answer to this question is the start of planning your perfect trip. Is it simply important to you to tick off a new destination? Or are you intrigued because you’ve read some of the best new chefs are coming out of Melbourne? Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to hold a koala and feed a kangaroo?

11 Best Australia Experiences

Research
Once you’ve decided why you’re going, you can research the various ways to visit. If what’s important is simply being in the place and seeing its most iconic sites, a guided tour might be your best bet. On the other hand, if you’re most fascinated by a specific aspect of the place — the Aboriginal culture of Australia, let’s say — then finding day tours or attractions that focus on that one interest should be your priority.

In my dreams of Australia, I was always fascinated by the wildlife, the Outback, the Aussies and the Aboriginal culture. So everywhere I went I made sure to seek out these things. In Sydney, I visited a zoo that allowed me to cuddle a koala and feed kangaroos. Near Cairns, I chose to skip the Great Barrier Reef and instead stay on a cattle station for three days to get to know the owner and see what life was like in the Outback. On my visit to Uluru, I only booked Aborigine-led tours so I could experience the country’s interior from their perspective.

All these experiences resonated with me because they were the things I already knew were important to me. I didn’t need to see the Sydney Opera House; I don’t particularly like opera and touring a theater would not be enjoyable for me. I didn’t need to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge; if I were going to exercise my body that way, it would be on a hike in the Blue Mountains. And to this day I don’t really feel I missed out by not snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef. Instead, I’m glad I skipped the seasickness and panic I always experience when snorkeling from a boat.

But other visitors to Australia might have left unsatisfied without some or all of those experiences.

Bucket list trips are dream trips, literally. We dream about the destinations years before ever visiting. We visualize what it will be like. But it’s only by being aware of those dreams and our expectations and then finding experiences that match them that we can actually make our dream bucket list trips come true.

How to Make Your Dream Trip a Reality


– written by Dori Saltzman

patricia schultzEleven years ago, a book called “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” became a runaway bestseller, inspiring millions of travelers to create their own must-visit lists. With the 1,200-page tome now in its second edition, we sat down with the author, Patricia Schultz, to talk about the difficulty of narrowing the world down to 1,000 places and to find out what’s still on her own bucket list.

IndependentTraveler.com: Have you visited every place in the book?
Patricia Schultz: No, I haven’t. If I was part of a typical travel guide team — let’s say Lonely Planet or Fodor’s — the answer would likely be different. But these “1,000 Places” books are written in the voice of one traveler … and there are only so many hours in my years!

IT: Were there any destinations or experiences you wanted to include but couldn’t? Why did you leave them out?
PS: With the “1,000 Places” revision (released in late 2011), I attempted to keep all my favorites from the original 2003 book while adding hundreds of new places I had discovered since then. That meant a complete reorganization, merging many places into a single entry at times to accommodate new information and destinations — 28 new countries! All while keeping the count at 1,000. But it’s laughable, really, to think that one could ever sit back and feel that no stone went unturned! That’s what keeps every traveler going. The intoxicating promise of something new and wonderful around the bend.

IT: How long would it realistically take to see everything in the book? (And how much money?)
PS: I’m afraid there is no easy answer for that. The book was not meant to be followed from cover to cover. I hope travelers discerningly pick and choose from this list of my favorites to add to their own wish lists. Does everyone want to see the fjords of Norway? The wine region of Chile? What if it is great art that inspires you — would you spend your time and money on an African safari? Time is short, [and] one needs to follow one’s own interests. What are the things and places that call you? Travel is a very personal thing.

Bucket List Travel Guide

IT: Some travelers may feel intimidated by the size of the book (or the size of the world!). Do you have any advice to help people feel inspired instead of overwhelmed?
PS: Most of us have “short lists.” Was there a film or book that inspired you? Has your family’s ancestry always fascinated you? Is ancient history your thing? Food? It is useless if you choose a destination simply because a friend has talked you into it or because you found a cheap flight. Follow your heart. Me? I wanted to go everywhere! So it was all good.

IT: The book has spawned a genre of sorts in travel — I can’t count how many lists I’ve seen of “places to visit before you’re 30″ or “destinations to take your family before your kids grow up.” Did you have any sense of how influential the book would be when you were writing it?
PS: No! I just kept writing away, trying to make sense of this vast and magnificent world and its wonders large and small. My eye was on the book deadline (I was given one year to write it but in fact it took eight), not future sales. I wanted to do the job as best I could, and hoped that I would sell enough copies to make my publisher happy and to pay off my credit card debt. I fulfilled both those goals! We have over 25 translations around the world, and it spawned a sister title, “1,000 Places to See in the USA & Canada Before You Die.”

IT: What’s still on your own bucket list?
PS: There are many countries I have not yet visited … Fiji, Romania, Uganda, among others. And although I have visited massive countries like China, Russia and India, I don’t pretend to know them well. Then there are those perennial loves I could return to time and again — Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Rio. I could go on. My bucket list has a bucket list!

How to Make Your Dream Trip a Reality

Want to win your own copy of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”? Leave a comment below and tell us what’s at the top of your own travel wish list! Leave your comment by 11:59 p.m. ET on July 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. Congratulations to Jeanette A., who has won the book! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.

– 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 destinations that commonly appear on travel bucket lists.

Would you rather…

… go on safari in Africa, or …

lions african safari



… find ultimate relaxation in French Polynesia?

bora bora kayak


An African safari is a common bucket list trip for travelers who love wildlife. Learn more with our guide to Planning an African Safari. The farflung islands of French Polynesia, with their aquamarine waters and lush palms, inspire many a wintertime daydream among those of us who live in colder climes.

Vote for your preference in the comments below!

– 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, July 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 Linda VanHoose, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Cambodia. Linda has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter