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skymall logoLast month we mourned and gnashed our teeth when SkyMall, that lovable in-flight catalog of incredibly useless items, declared bankruptcy and stopped its print publication. But take heart: Turns out you may still be able to purchase a six-foot Statue of Liberty replica or a Tyrannosaurus rex trophy head to hang on your wall.

Yahoo! Travel reports that the CEO of ScotteVest, Scott Jordan, is hoping to bring back the print catalog on planes — but there’s a catch: “We’re going to include items in the magazine that people actually want to buy.”

Well, that’s no fun.

Or is it? According to Yahoo!, the new SkyMall could feature some pretty nifty features. You could, for example, purchase a digital camera in the air and have it delivered to your hotel the day after you arrive. There may also be a page in the new magazine for app reviews, including a special code so you can buy the apps at a discount. Along with plenty of catalog items for sale (including travel gear and even tours and hotel rooms), there will also be articles about topics relevant to travelers, such as how those clever noise-canceling headphones work.

But the best news of all is that some of the wacky products SkyMall is known for will still be in the magazine, only in a small section rather than spread throughout the publication. What a relief!

The new SkyMall could be onboard flights as soon as June if all negotiations go well. In the meantime, if you need a hit of cow-shaped benches and porch potties for your dog, you can still visit SkyMall.com.

The Best of SkyMall:
9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet
7 More Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet

– written by Sarah Schlichter

collage from flytographer.comForget strangers and selfies — hire a flytographer on your next trip and never worry about capturing yourself on location again. What’s a flytographer? More like who. Leading the newest travel trend, Flytographer.com connects you with professional photographers who are available to shoot your vacation as you would a wedding (or even a celebrity sighting). Just when you thought drones were the ultimate travel paparazzo…

Local photographers in more than 130 cities make it easy to connect with someone who is familiar with the best backdrops and locations, turning an average trip into something worth a glamorous (albeit candid) photo shoot. Whether it’s a special event, such as a proposal in Prague, or simply a family vacation in Cancun that you want to be sure to capture, it beats a clunky self-timer, an awkward exchange with a passerby or an uncomfortably tight selfie.

19 Tips for Better Travel Photos

Travel blogger Johnny Jet even tried it out on a recent vacation with his wife in Hawaii.

The idea came from Nicole Smith, a Canadian woman who, after losing hundreds of travel photos due to underexposed old film, realized on a recent girls’ trip that asking a third friend to document the vacation wasn’t only a huge favor, it was a business model. A working mother of two, Smith now runs Flytographer.com full time, tapering off her hours at Microsoft, where she currently still works.

Prices for the experience range from $250, which buys you a 30-minute shoot in one location resulting in 15 photos, to $500 for a 90-minute session in two locations yielding 45 photos. A proposal photo shoot is a flat fee of $450.

What do you think — is a professional vacation photographer worth the splurge? Share in the comments.

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

Every once in a while, it’s nice to be reminded that the airlines aren’t all unfeeling, bean-counting, baggage fee-charging corporations, but that they have a human side as well. This time the reminder comes courtesy of JetBlue, which recently launched a campaign called Flying It Forward, in which the carrier has been giving away free flights to passengers with inspiring stories.

JetBlue’s latest giveaway sent a passenger named Johannes from Medellin, Colombia, where he was working to fight poverty, back home to Washington D.C. to reunite with his wife over Valentine’s Day. (They’ve been living separately for two years.) Before that, a man named Jon flew for free from Portland to Medellin on a mission to spread his love of cycling with kids in the local community. In a nice touch, each flier helps select the next recipient of the free flight.

The following video offers a moving overview of the first four trips in the campaign:


While this is clearly a sophisticated PR and social media campaign, it’s impossible not to feel a little inspired — especially as you look over the photos and videos from each passenger’s journey.

Next up? The ticket is on its way to West Palm Beach and will be departing from there for its next trip. If you want to be considered as a recipient, tweet @JetBlue with your story and the hashtag #FlyingItForward.

JetBlue Introduces Funny Flight Etiquette Videos

– written by Sarah Schlichter

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

french polynesia overwater bungalow sunrise


Population: 280,000

Currency: French Pacific franc

Phrase to Know: Ia orana (hello)

Fun Fact: If you spot a local wearing a tiare flower behind his or her ear, check out which side it’s on; wearing it on the left means you’re taken, while a flower on the right means you’re seeking a mate.

We Recommend: Learn to perform the heiva, a traditional hip-swinging local dance. You can take classes at the Ori Tahiti International School of Tahitian Dance.

10 Best French Polynesia Experiences

Have you been to French Polynesia? What was your favorite spot?

– 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: The Biodiversity Museum in this country was designed by Frank Gehry, and commissioned to celebrate the region’s natural and geological wonders.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, March 2, 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.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Carole Arbush, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Panama. Carole has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

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!

mount roraimaIn this month’s featured review, reader Cami-sphere goes on a trekking adventure to the top of South America’s Mount Roraima. “The plan today was to start out early to explore the summit closer to camp rather than hike to Triple Point where Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela meet,” writes Cami-sphere. “As we headed to the scenic point, Marco identified indigenous plants and he walked us through an area where small quartz crystals lined the path. He also introduced us to a baby black toad he had spotted in one of the plants. Along the way, we greeted other trekkers with ‘Feliz Ano Nuevo.’ It was New Year’s Day and we were all upbeat. As I walked I forgot what it took to get to this point and it came over me that this was a unique and very special experience — there’s probably nowhere else on earth like this!”

Read the rest of Cami-sphere’s review here: The Lost World of Mount Roraima. This reader has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

indie guide appAll travel guides narrow down sprawling cityscapes into an organized list of things to do, but 200 pages later, the information can still be overwhelming to a newcomer. A startup called Indie Guides takes a different tack by not including major tourist attractions and not catering to everyone. Instead, it carefully selects 50 addresses for each of its mobile city guides.

We first learned about these artistically inclined travel guides from an article on CNTraveler.com that describe the write-ups as “worded in an easygoing style, as if you were reading a friend’s emailed list of recommendations.” And in fact, friends’ recommendations they are.

As musicians, the creators of the guides reached out to fellow artists around the world and elicited their very personal choices for things to do and see in Athens, Berlin, Istanbul, Madrid, Rotterdam and Paris, in categories such as culture, drink, eat, shopping and going out. The result is an eclectic mix of boutiques, hidden live music venues, art workshops and galleries that you may easily have walked past had you not known what was on the other side. On their site, the creators of the guide describe their picks as “subjective, yes, but informed, honest and passionate.”

The 9 Best Cities to See Cool Public Art

Being musically minded, founder Anne Le Gal and friends have also crafted a streamable playlist for each location, based on the local music scene.

The app — for both iOS and Android devices — offers an offline map so you can travel with your recommendations regardless of Internet connection. Each guide costs $1.99, with the exception of Paris, which is free for the next six months. A guide to Tokyo is debuting in March, and Rome is set to launch in April.

Would you be interested in an Indie Guide? Which cities would you like to see guides for next?

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

pivotal soft case gear bagOne of the biggest innovations in luggage over the past several years has been the development of spinner wheels — but now a company has come up with a spinner handle.

The Pivotal Soft Case Gear Bag has a sturdy grip that doesn’t extend and retract the way most suitcase handles do; instead, it rotates 360 degrees so you can hang onto it at any angle that’s comfortable for your hand and wrist. (The idea is based on Perfect Pushup exercise grips.) To make up for the non-telescoping handle, the suitcase is taller and thinner than most: 36 inches high, 14 inches wide and 12 inches deep.

I liked the idea of the pivoting handle, and I wasn’t alone — the bag won the Product Innovation Award at last year’s International Travel Goods Show. In practice, though, it wasn’t such a hit. When I filled up the suitcase and began walking around with it, the shortness of the handle meant the top of the bag banged into the back of my thigh with each step. I could avoid it by holding my arm out to the side, but the position felt unnatural and made the bag seem heavier.

To make sure it wasn’t just me, I took the bag for a spin around the office and let a few colleagues try it out. It turns out that your height (or perhaps your wingspan?) may determine how comfortable this suitcase is to walk with. The tallest person in our office — at 6’7″ — called the bag “the most comfortable suitcase I’ve ever used.” The other folks who were able to pull the bag smoothly were 6’0″ and 6’1″, respectively. But my less lanky colleagues, ranging from 5’0″ to 5’10”, ran into the same problem I did, with the bag hitting their legs as they walked. It seems that shorter arms and the shorter pivoting handle make for a bad combination.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

That issue aside, the bag has plenty of perks. There are three different external pockets, two on the sides and one on the front, where you can store items for quick access. Inside are even more options for compartmentalization, with two dividers that you can use to separate, say, shoes from sweaters and books from clothing. There are also three different sizes of flat zipper compartments.

The bag can be collapsed for easy storage, and while the wheels don’t spin, they are large and look durable enough to handle cobblestones or rougher terrain. The weight of the bag is reasonable at 10.7 pounds, and the length of the bag, as well as the duffel straps, mean it can be used as a sports gear bag between trips.

pivotal soft case gear bag handleOne possible concern: Most U.S. airlines limit checked baggage to a total of 62 inches (height + width + depth), and the bag fits just fine by that measure. But a few airline websites we checked, including those of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, specified a maximum height of 35.5 inches, which this bag would ever-so-slightly exceed.

The suitcase sells for $249.95 at PivotalGear.com and comes in six different colors.

Want to try it out for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) suitcase! Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on March 12, 2015. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the Pivotal Soft Case Gear Bag. 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

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

cinque terre italy


Population: 93 million

Currency: Dong

Phrase to Know: Ban co noi tieng Anh khong? (Do you speak English?)

Fun Fact: Next time you add a pinch of pepper to a dish, think of Vietnam; it’s the world’s largest exporter of black pepper.

We Recommend: Have a taste of Vietnam’s imperial cuisine in Hue. Here kings in the 19th century commonly ate meals consisting of up to 300 tiny, exquisitely presented dishes. These days you can sample similar fare at restaurants in Hue, such as steamed rice-flour dumplings with dried shrimp and pork.

11 Best Vietnam Experiences

Have you been to Vietnam? 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, February 23, 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 Carolyn Douglas, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from the Marshall Islands. Carolyn has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

– written by Sarah Schlichter