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I’ve traveled a lot so far this year, and my formerly sturdy toiletry kit looks like it’s gone through a hurricane. The seemingly indestructible little bottles I bought for shampoo and lotion have cracked and exploded. The zipper broke on my toiletry bag. Teeny jars filled with cosmetics all broke or depleted at the same time. Even the cool collapsible travel hangers I bought years ago saw their final days.

eyeglass case asparagus pill organizer duct tape dental floss prescription bottles


Instead of heading to the Container Store to replace all of these items, I did one better: I scrounged around my house and sought out ordinary items that could do double duty in my toiletry kit. And you know what? I like them much better than the items I could buy in a store, because they’re free, environmentally friendly and durable.

Here are six items I’ve upcycled so far this year.

Old prescription bottles: With their transparent tangerine-colored sides and easy-pop-off lids, old prescription bottles are perfect to fill with facial wash, hair gel and lotion. They’re usually spill proof, and they only hold a few ounces (hear that, TSA?). Plus, the bottles are wide enough to scoop product from. (Biggest travel pet peeve: When you use a hotel toiletry and only half the shampoo ever comes out. Grr!) I soak the labels off and affix a masking tape label on the side.

Eyeglass cases: Every time I buy new eyeglasses, I’m given a new case, which ends up collecting dust bunnies in a drawer. Not anymore. Eyeglass cases are now my go-to carrier for phone chargers — they stay beautifully protected and untangled. I also use one for little items that are hard to locate in larger bag: things like nail clippers, nail files, pens and flash drives.

Pill organizers: I hate carting full-size cosmetics on a trip. They take up too much space and weigh down my bag. I found an old pill organizer, washed and sanitized it, and filled the compartments with foundation, concealer, lipstick and blush. My makeup now takes up much less space, and it’s simple to use. Tip: Buy a small lip brush for the lipstick — makes it easier to apply.

Rubber bands: When the last of my travel hangers broke, I realized I really didn’t need to replace them. I loved them because they were covered with non-skid material that kept my shirts from sliding off, the way they do on normal metal or wooden hangers. But now all I do is bring a few large rubber bands (those thick ones that come wrapped around broccoli or asparagus at the grocery store are perfect) and slip them onto both ends of a hotel room hanger. Voila — my clothes don’t slide off the hangers anymore.

Dental floss boxes: When your dental floss runs out, don’t throw away the box. Instead, use it to hide cash when you’re traveling. The box stays in my toiletry kit, and I’m pretty sure a burglar, even if he looked in my toiletry bag, likely wouldn’t open up the floss.

Duct tape: The morning I set out on a hiking trip in West Virginia, the aglet at the end of my hiking shoe’s laces ripped off. Duct tape to the rescue! Duct tape is always the No. 1 item I pack on trips, because it can fix everything — a broken strap on a backpack, a hole in a shoe, a tear in your trousers. It can even serve as a quickie bandage when you get a cut. I either roll a few yards and tuck it into my bag, or I rip off some pieces and affix them to the outside of my luggage, for use later. (Bonus: It helps make your bag easy to identify on the luggage carousel).

Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash
Pack This: 11 Versatile Travel Essentials You Can’t Do Without

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

This week’s puzzle is a word scramble. Below are the jumbled names of four major cities from around the world, followed by the country where they’re located. Your job is to unscramble them. For example, “IALM, EURP” would be “Lima, Peru.” Identify all four mystery cities to win.

BTREPGSUERTS, USIARS

TECPGALGIAU, SODUHNAR

JTAAAKR, IDISENNOA

RICAO, TGEYP


Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, July 25, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday 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 Charlie Portman, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS

JAKARTA, INDONESIA

CAIRO, EGYPT


— created by Sarah Schlichter

Check out our favorite reads from around the travel world this week.

ani ruins turkey


UNESCO Just Added 9 New World Heritage Sites to Your Travel Bucket List
Mashable reports on the nine sites recently recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including rock art in China, an ancient walled city in Greece and temple ruins in Micronesia.

15 Phone Hacks Every Traveler Needs to Know
BuzzFeed offers useful tips for anyone who wants to use their phone in a foreign country, including how to protect yourself if you lose it and which apps offer messaging through Wi-Fi (so you can stay in touch without burning through data).

The Nation That Hates to Be Late
BBC investigates Switzerland’s reputation for efficiency and punctuality, values that for the Swiss represent “a source of deep contentment” but can sometimes be irritating to less organized visitors.

For Want of a Coffeepot, Your Flight Is Delayed
The New York Times examines a surprising source of flight delays: a non-functional coffee maker. It’s not all the potentially angry caffeine addicts that could keep your plane on the tarmac, but rather that a malfunction in the coffee maker could be a symptom of a larger problem such as an electrical issue.

The Secrets of the World’s Best Travel Photographer
The Telegraph interviews Marsel van Oosten, a Dutchman who just won the Travel Photographer of the Year competition. He lists Namibia as one of his favorite places to take photos and stresses the importance of finding unique places and perspectives to shoot.

Fair Warning: Don’t Visit This Country This Summer
A writer for the Business Journals examines how other countries’ governments warn their citizens against traveling to the U.S., citing America’s “racial tensions,” high medical costs and mass shootings.

Okinawa: Secrets for a Long and Happy Life
Lonely Planet journeys to Okinawa to try to discover why these Japanese islands are home to more centenarians than anywhere else on Earth.

Will [Your] Next Hotel Room Be Delivered by Drone?
CNN reports on an intriguing new concept: a self-sustaining hotel room that can be dropped off by a drone anywhere in the world. The idea, known as Driftscape, is one of the finalists for the 2016 Radical Innovation Award.

We always love Air New Zealand’s in-flight safety videos (don’t miss its “Men in Black” spoof from last year), and the latest one is no exception. Watch Anna Faris and Rhys Darby in a madcap romp through various Hollywood movie tropes.


Quiz: How Well Do You Know Travel Movies?
9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

— written by Sarah Schlichter

A recent bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama includes several consumer-friendly measures for U.S. air travelers, including refunds for delayed bags and a requirement that children be seated next to an older family member at no extra cost.

baggage carousel at airport


The FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, which funds the Federal Aviation Administration through September 2017, includes a section that entitles passengers to an automatic refund of their checked bag fee if they don’t receive their suitcase within 12 hours of the arrival of a domestic flight or 15 hours of the arrival of an international flight. This would apply not only to U.S. airlines but to foreign carriers as well. The bill mandates that the Secretary of Transportation issue this regulation within the coming year.

Also on the way in the next 12 months: a policy requiring that any child age 13 or younger be seated adjacent to an accompanying family member over 13. It’s worth noting that the language around this policy in the bill is less definitive: “Not later than [one] year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall review and, if appropriate, establish a policy…” Parents, you may want to keep an eye on this one.

Other tidbits in the bill include expansion of the PreCheck program (which offers expedited passage through airport security), enhanced mental health screening for pilots and various enhancements to airport security, such as law enforcement training for “mass casualty and active shooter incidents.”

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees
18 Clever Airport Hacks

— written by Sarah Schlichter

The European Commission has delayed making a decision about whether to halt the program that allows American and Canadian tourists to go to Europe without visas.

visa schengen


The commission originally said it would decide in mid-July about whether to suspend the Schengen visa waiver program for citizens of the United States, Canada and Brunei. But the commission’s leaders decided last week to delay a decision until the fall because talks with the U.S. and Canada are still in progress.

As we reported in April, the Schengen visa program allows Americans, Canadians and the citizens of more than two dozen European countries to travel to and between countries in Europe without obtaining a visa in advance.

A key principle of the program is visa waiver reciprocity, but the United States, Canada and Brunei were not abiding by that. The U.S. government requires the citizens of five European countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Cyprus and Croatia) to obtain an advance visa, while Canada mandates such visas for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens. Brunei formerly required Croatians to get them.

A recent statement from the European Commission notes that Brunei has lifted the visa requirement for Croatian citizens. However, there’s been no meaningful progress on full reciprocity with Canada or the U.S. Talks with Canada will continue at a summit in late October, while U.S. government officials indicated to the E.U. that there would be “little chance of evolution” on the subject before the presidential and Congressional elections in November.

The E.U. still could decide not to suspend the program at all, according to the Wall Street Journal. If the E.U. decides there would be significant negative impacts on the European countries and its citizens, then it can keep the Schengen program alive without full reciprocity. The European Commission did acknowledge that the number of U.S. and Canadian visitors to Europe would decrease if visas were required, leading to “a considerable economic loss.”

Stay tuned for further updates.

Quiz: Which European City Are You?
Planning a Trip to Europe: Your 10-Step Guide

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

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 is one of the few glaciers in the world that are growing instead of shrinking.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, July 18, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday 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 Patrick Fogarty, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. Patrick has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

See All “Where in the World?” Challenges

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Catch up on the travel stories you may have missed.

woman sleeping at airport


Why Your Eastward Jet Lag Is Worse, According to Math
CNN reports on a new math model that explains why many travelers have more trouble with jet lag when traveling east than they do going west.

Your Awkward Family Travel Photos
Have a laugh over this slideshow from the New York Times featuring bad ’80s hair, goofy poses and kids having temper tantrums — all the stuff great family trips are made of.

How a Hidden Noodle Shop Tour Helps Street Youth in Vietnam
National Geographic reports on a street food tour with a heart. The Oodles of Noodles tour in Hoi An, Vietnam, is led by local street kids being trained to work in the hospitality industry.

Why I Love Being a Pilot
A pilot tells the Guardian about his experience of “place lag,” which he describes as the feeling of being immersed in one destination and then, after a few hours on a plane, having to suddenly adapt to a new place and culture.

The Ultimate Berlin Street Food
BBC Travel investigates the history and cultural significance of currywurst, which is said to have been invented in 1949 by a bored snack bar owner in West Berlin.

5 Changes That Have Made Flying Safer
Conde Nast Traveler highlights just how safe it is to fly these days — there were only 136 fatalities last year out of 3.5 billion fliers — and explains the policies and technology that have led us to this point.

Google’s Mobile Service Gets International Upgrade
Travelers who rely on their phones abroad should check out this article from Travel + Leisure, which describes improvements to Google’s Project Fi mobile service — including high data speeds in more than 100 countries. (One important caveat: So far the service is only available for Google’s Nexus phones.)

CT Scanners Could End the Liquid Ban, and They’re Coming to Phoenix This Year
Airline blogger Cranky Flier reports that American Airlines will be testing out CT scanners at Phoenix Sky Harbor International this year. Such technology is currently in use for checked bags, but if it comes to the airport security checkpoint it could conceivably speed up the line and possibly even keep us from having to pull out our bags of liquids and gels. Here’s hoping…

This week’s video is a twofer from Visit Norway, which has introduced a new campaign called Sheep with a View. First up is the video introducing the project, while the second one is a behind-the-scenes look that’s even cuter.



10 Best Norway Experiences
How to Fight Jet Lag

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Would you welcome a traveler you’ve never met to come sleep on your couch for free? If you would, you’re not alone; CouchSurfing.com, a website devoted to connecting travelers with local hosts, has a network of some 12 million members, including Jamie Matczak.

jamie matczak borgarnes iceland


Matczak lives with her chocolate lab in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and has been a Couchsurfing host for three years. She’s hosted guests from Hawaii, France, Denmark, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Texas, Wisconsin and South Korea. “I look at it as a fellowship type of exchange,” says Matczak. “I am providing a room in exchange for a new friendship!”

We chatted with Matczak by email about why she’s chosen to host, whether she’s had any safety issues and how welcoming strangers into her home has changed the way she travels.

IndependentTraveler.com: What made you decide to start hosting?
Jamie Matczak:
I had stayed with families on a trip to Australia and New Zealand in 2011 and was looking for a similar experience on a solo trip to Spain in 2012. I discovered the Couchsurfing site and loved the idea of offering travelers (surfers) a couch/room as they are traveling. I signed up, and even though I didn’t use it for my trip to Spain, I began to receive requests as a host. I had previously hosted women from France through a different program and enjoyed the experience.

IT.com: What are the biggest benefits of hosting?
JM:
The biggest benefit is getting to know someone new, possibly someone from another country. As a traveler who has been to more than 30 countries, I enjoy hearing about life and cultures in other places. I want to have conversations and learn, and that occurs with all of my guests. I also like the opportunity to show some highlights of my city, Green Bay. Surfers arrive at my house as strangers but leave as friends.

IT.com: As a woman who lives alone, have you ever had any safety concerns about hosting strangers? How do you protect yourself?
JM:
The site has verification checks, so you know if people are legit. Every profile also has a references area, so I can read what other hosts have said about a potential surfer. I typically don’t accept guests who don’t have any references, or if I feel something seems “off.” I tell friends or family when a surfer is arriving, just as a back-up. So far, I have not had any bad or unsafe experiences. I choose to believe that people on the site are using it for something positive.

IT.com: Why host people for free instead of charging a nightly fee with a service such as Airbnb?
JM:
I have considered using a site such as Airbnb where a fee is charged, but I don’t think that would fit with my busier lifestyle. With Couchsurfing, I don’t feel as bad if I have to decline a request or turn off “hosting” if needed. Also, I think if I charged a fee, I would feel under more pressure for my home to be spotless and perfect. Most Couchsurfers are happy to have a bed and are easygoing if my home doesn’t look perfect. And it’s really not about the money. With Airbnb, I might gain more in my pocketbook, but not necessarily gain a richer experience.

IT.com: Who’s the most memorable guest you’ve ever had?
JM:
EVERY guest has been memorable in their own way. As a few examples, I hosted two friends from Australia who were driving to all 50 states. I met two women from Wisconsin who were in Green Bay to volunteer for the weekend. I hosted a young woman from France who was studying for the semester at our local university, and when she arrived, her campus apartment was not available. In January, a father and son from Germany stayed with me because the father took his son to a Packers game as a high school graduation gift. Most recently, I hosted a young man from Korea who is walking across North America.

IT.com: Are you still in touch with folks you’ve hosted? Have you ever slept on their couches in return?
JM:
Yes! Most of them are on Facebook, so that is a great way to stay in touch. I have not visited any of my guests, but I hope to in the future. I have tentative plans to visit the family of the German father and son, as well as a former surfer who is now in Taiwan.

IT.com: Has hosting people changed the way you travel? If so, how?
JM:
Definitely. I lot of people ask me what I “get” out of hosting. It’s not just a new friendship, but I also feel like, as a solo traveler, I have been really fortunate on my trips. People have loaned me a cell phone to use or offered me rides when I’ve been lost. Of course, you have to be cautious and careful when traveling alone, especially as a female. But hosting people has made me more aware that most people in this world are good and want to do good things. They want to be helpful to other travelers, just as I do.

The 7 Cheapest Ways to Travel
How to Solve Common Airbnb Problems

— interview conducted by Sarah Schlichter

During his first visit to Rome, Serguei Sofinski and his wife explored the city on foot after conducting extensive guidebook and app research and charting what he thought was the most interesting route. But inevitably, an attractive side street or tucked-away fountain not listed in any guidebook would draw their attention.

strol app


“When you travel, you want to use every moment to absorb and enjoy the destination you are exploring,” Sofinski says. “There were plenty of apps showing directions to major sights or suggesting predefined street tours, but none provided a scenic route that could begin from anywhere.”

So Sofinski, a Harvard Business School grad and San Francisco-based software expert, created one.

His travel app and website, Strol, provides travelers with a scenic walking route in just about any city or town on the planet, even the ones guidebooks gloss over. Punch in your desired destination, and the program gives you a clearly marked and interesting route on a simple-to-read map. Points of interest — including lesser-known monuments, buildings and other sites — are marked with a star; touch or click on it to see photos and basic factual information about the attraction.

You can also chart out a route based on the amount of time you want to walk. Let’s say you’re staying at the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires and you have 30 minutes to kill before meeting a friend for dinner. Type in your location and select a half-hour, and Strol will recommend the most scenic route.

The app uses crowdsourced information, so it’s constantly evolving and adding new attractions, large and small. Routes are also scored, based on what ordinary users (not guidebook writers) find interesting, so you get an idea how engaging the route will be. My sample half-hour stroll through Buenos Aires scored 3.20, whereas an hour-long jaunt starting in Times Square, New York, scored a 6.02, with more than 50 points of interest noted. (According to the Strol website, the most interesting destinations are scored at 7 or higher.)

Though the algorithms behind it are very complicated, Strol is a simple-to-use app that makes wandering more interesting. And it will only get better in the future as more attractions are added and more users score routes.

Would you give Strol a try?

The World’s 9 Best City Walking Tours
What Not to Do in a New City

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

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 11, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday 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 Wendy, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Uganda. Wendy has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!

— written by Sarah Schlichter