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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 colorful park was designed by its city’s most famous modernist architect.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 15, 2017, 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 Maria, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location is Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain. Maria 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

As travelers, we often collect “trip tokens” as a way of materializing our memories. But what if there were a way to give back to the world while compiling those keepsakes?

This idea was the seed that became Traveller Collective.

darryl mcivor


Founded in 2015 by Darryl McIvor of Vancouver, Traveller Collective offers a product that is simple — yet sentimental — in an effort to overcome the “massive inequalities” in our world. Handmade by McIvor and his team in Vancouver, the product is a leather keychain clip with washer-like rings that are engraved with a two- or three-letter code representing every country, U.S. state or Canadian province you’ve visited.

The clips — which come in brown, black and tan — cost $18.50 apiece, while the metal spacers range from $2 to $3.25 each. Up to 25 percent of every sale goes toward nonprofits and charitable causes around the globe.

We caught up with Darryl to chat about the creation of Traveller Collective, the impact it’s having on global communities and what’s coming next for the company.

Independent Traveler: Tell us a little bit about the Traveller Collective product. Why a keychain clip and spacers, rather than — let’s say — patches or pins?
Darryl McIvor:
I really wanted to create something based around travel and giving back. You know how you always see people with flag patches on their backpacks? I liked that idea — the concept of having a simple reminder of the places that you’ve been. But I didn’t really like the idea of patches. I always felt it was kind of loud, kind of in your face. I wanted something much more subtle, something much more personalized.

IT: Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind Traveller Collective?
DM:
We launched in the summer of 2015. Really for me — and for the business in general — the ability for us to travel the world and do that type of thing is so far off from what so many people in the world have the ability to do. … So for us, it was kind of a reminder of that, and showing gratitude. It was never about counting countries or seeing how many different countries you could get to. It was more of a reminder to go out, travel and really aspire to do more.

IT: What sorts of nonprofits, charities and projects has Traveller Collective funded so far?
DM:
Our First project was about clean water. … We partnered with a nonprofit in New York called charity: water. We did a project with them and raised $10,000 to build a well in Ethiopia.

There’s also a local nonprofit we’ve started working with called imagine1day. We raised $10,000 last year to build a school in Ethiopia. We also ran this big contest last October, where we had one of our customers and imagine1day come with us to Ethiopia. After being on the ground in Ethiopia and meeting the majority of the staff in imagine1day, I knew I wanted to work with them again. Just the things that they’re doing and the sustainability aspects that they’ve instilled in these projects is really important to us. We decided to do another project with them. We’re raising money for it now, and running another contest where we’re going to bring one of the customers in October [2017] to visit the school and meet the community.

traveller collective keychain


IT: People love collecting tokens from their travels. How does the Traveller Collective keychain add a special element to that concept?
DM:
For me, it’s just the meaning behind it. Whether you get a small ring that’s engraved with a country, or if you get a small trinket, it means something to everyone in their own certain aspect. Some rings for some people might be six months in a certain place; for some people it might only be a weekend. But it’s so individual that everyone has their own story behind it. My Australia ring would mean something so different from someone else’s Australia ring, and the stories behind each of those represents an entirely different trip at a different time. For me, it’s having all of these altogether in one spot and being able to glance at it from time to time; to go back over some of the memories, and to really inspire people to go out and make more.

IT: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned while traveling?
DM:
The things I enjoy most about my personality I attribute to traveling: my patience, my understanding, my gratitude. I don’t think I would have learned those things in the capacity I know them now unless I was traveling. That’s one of the reasons we want people to get out there and travel more; it changes them. I think we’re all better off if we have more gratitude, understanding and appreciation for the way other people live.

IT: Is there one spacer you can associate with your favorite travel memory or destination?
DM:
Anytime anyone asks me my favorite country, I always say — which might be a little cheesy — Canada. I love traveling, but I really enjoy coming back to Canada. Every time you come back from a new place it just provides different perspectives on what your home is and what your country is, and that’s really important to me.

IT: How many silver spacers do you have on your own keychain?
DM:
I just went to Belgium for the first time at the end of January, and I believe that was my 32nd country.

Check out the Traveller Collective website for info on upcoming projects, contests and products.

See more travel interviews!

Social Impact Travel: A Q&A with Michal Alter
Voluntourism: Does It Really Help?

— interview conducted by Christina Janansky

This week’s puzzle is a country shapes quiz! Take a look at the silhouette and below and tell us which country you think it is.

mystery country


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 8, 2017, 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 Diana C, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery country was Panama. Diana has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Being “good” at travel isn’t the point of travel.

wayfarer's handbook


Evan S. Rice learned this first hand when he quit his job at age 25, bought a one-way ticket to East Africa and wandered the world for 10 months. As an independent traveler in the truest sense, Rice wasn’t a travel expert when he set out on that first trip. But with dozens of stamps in his passport now, Rice has solid road warrior experience that he’s now sharing with others.

Rice compiled his best travel tips in a new book called The Wayfarer’s Handbook: A Field Guide for the Independent Traveler. The book is a fun and random collection of modern-day travel advice, trivia and anecdotes, including these 10 tips and tidbits:

10. The irresistible feeling to quit your job, abandon your family and go travel is called “dromomania.”

9. There’s an ancient reason why you don’t sleep well the first night of a trip. The left hemisphere of the brain stays fully alert the first night you sleep in an unfamiliar place, “likely the result of an evolutionary trait protecting humans from predators,” Rice writes about a 2016 jet lag study.

8. Putting your hands in your pockets in South Korea and Turkey can imply boredom or lack of respect.

7. There are no generally accepted rules about waiting in line. In England, Canada and the U.S., people systematically queue up. In Japan, people leave a piece of tape or a token to mark their place in line. In China, if you let someone go ahead of you, you’re acknowledging that that person is of higher class.

6. Rice details 27 common scams that travelers should be aware of. These include having your bag sliced open during a long bus or train journey and a super-friendly local offering to tour you around his city under the guise of practicing his English and then demanding payment.

5. Only three countries in the world have not adopted the metric system: the United States, Liberia and Myanmar.

4. In Japanese, the term yokomeshi means the stress of stringing together a few learned words to try to communicate with a foreigner. It literally means “cooked rice eaten horizontally.”

3. Among items banned in Saudi Arabia: old newspapers, fireworks and “greeting cards with small musical devices which work automatically when the card is moved.”

2. If you buy an item in a developing country with a fluctuating economy, don’t be surprised to receive your change in the form of candy, soda, matches or other token items. A lot of people don’t have enough currency to make change.

1. In some countries, locals only smile at people they know personally. Smiling at a stranger could be perceived as insincere, mocking or just plain odd.

The 14 Best Airplane Books for Long Flights
8 Things Not to Bring Home from a Trip

–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.” Multi-word cities or countries are scrambled into one word, so “San Juan” might appear as SJAANUN. (Hint: This week there is one two-word city.) Identify all four mystery cities to win.

RTAMLNEO, DNAAAC

RIAG, TIAALV

AMCIHINGA, TDALINAH

KWHDNOEI, IMNIABA


Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 1, 2017, 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 Kirk Witt, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.

MONTREAL, CANADA

RIGA, LATVIA

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

WINDHOEK, NAMIBIA


— created by Sarah Schlichter

Michal Alter has spent her career working on behalf of underserved communities. So when the Israel native and New York resident decided to launch a tourism operation two years ago, the needs of others were at the forefront of her mind.

michal alter


The company Alter cofounded, Visit.org, allows travelers to find and book authentic and impactful excursions in the U.S. and overseas. Visit.org carefully vets the organizations it works with to ensure that the activities make a social impact and that 100 percent of the fees a traveler pays for an activity is invested in the local community.

From her office in New York, Alter talked with us about this rapidly growing platform for what she called “social impact travel experiences.”

Independent Traveler: Why did you start this company?
Michal Alter:
We launched Visit.org in 2015 in response to the travel industry’s immense potential to generate economic sustainability for local communities. The $7 trillion travel industry is the world’s top economic driver, yet only 5 percent of earnings are left in local hands. With this in mind, we created a platform that enables social ventures like nonprofits and other community-based enterprises to create and market mainstream tourism products that will finance their missions.

IT: How many different activities could a traveler book through Visit.org?
MA:
As of March 2017, we have 545 exclusive experiences in 65 countries. We aim to reach more than 1,000 do-good partners by the end of the year.

IT: Why is it important for travelers to support local communities?
MA:
When we do not support local communities, local cultures and natural resources get diluted. What makes the destination so unique and different from our own home towns then disappears. When travelers support local communities, they are leaving funds directly in the hands of the local hosts whose communities’ natural resources, labor, social fabrics and cultures are affected.

IT: What are some of the more unusual experiences someone could arrange through Visit.org?
MA:
Some of my favorite experiences are in always inspiring Paris. The most unusual offers guests the chance to upcycle trash into artwork. Visitors repurpose waste into something beautiful as well as learn about the importance of responsible waste management.

In Cuzco, Peru, you can go to a potato park with a group that works to preserve local ancestral agricultural knowledge and celebrate the country’s unique potato heritage. There are 1,500 native types of potatoes grown in Peru!

IT: Can you tell me a little about the vetting process you go through before selecting the organizations you partner with?
MA:
We focus on partnerships with locally operated grassroots organizations as they are the best equipped to serve their communities; they have vast knowledge and understanding of the issues. Our high-level vetting criteria includes confirming a measurable track record of significant impact on the local community and a commitment that 100 percent of hosts’ revenue from the experience will be invested into the local community. We then conduct extensive online research about potential organizations and use existing official databases of highly vetted nonprofits around the globe to identify new partners.

Once we’ve identified a new potential partner organization, we send someone from our global network of more than 200 “travel ambassadors” to visit the organizations in person. After the meeting, the ambassador fills out a detailed report.

IT: Your activities are not very expensive. Do people have a misperception that social impactful travel equals more expensive travel?
MA:
There is definitely that misconception. It comes from the fact that a lot of what is marketed to consumers as “social impactful travel” is either an expensive and long-term volunteer tourism commitment, or a high-end, highly curated culturally immersive itinerary. This is where Visit.org’s innovation lies, as we make impactful travel experiences both affordable and easy to book.

IT: If a traveler is told that an excursion or activity will support the local community, what can he or she do to confirm that’s indeed the case?
MA:
Travelers can check a provider’s website to see what type of company it is, review the mission statement, research what the vendor is incentivized by and see how revenue will be spent. Also, check customer reviews to see if past guests had meaningful experiences and look to see if the company has responsible travel certifications from such organizations as the Center for Responsible Travel, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and the International Ecotourism Society.

IT: What have been some of your most memorable culturally immersive experiences from your travels?
MA:
I recently visited Al Hagal, an Israeli social enterprise that leads yearlong youth empowerment programs through surfing to underserved youth from around the country. I took my first wave-surfing lesson. Surfing the waves for the first time was a lot of fun, but much more powerful was getting to know the staff and youth, taking in the contagious passion with which the staff speaks about their youth program, and listening to stories of transformation from the program’s participants.

3 Secrets for Traveling Like a Local
Voluntourism: Does It Really Help?

— interview conducted 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 quirky house of worship is a landmark designed by one of Latin America’s most famous modern architects.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 24, 2017, 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 Serafin who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location is the Cathedral of Brasilia in Brazil. Serafin 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

Have you ever considered bringing your dog with you on vacation — even when traveling overseas? Melissa Halliburton founded the website BringFido to make it easier for people to do just that. The site is a directory of pet-friendly hotels, vacation rentals, B&Bs and campgrounds all over the world; it also includes information on restaurants and attractions. We caught up with Halliburton to ask about her practical tips for traveling with dogs as well as find out where she and her own pet, Roxy, are headed next.

melissa halliburton with dog roxy on train


Independent Traveler: Other than companionship, what are the benefits of bringing your pet with you when you travel?
Melissa Haliburton:
Traveling with your furry friend can be good for your health and possibly your pet’s health too. You and your four-legged companion will both get great exercise exploring new destinations on foot. And bringing Fido along on your adventure will eliminate any concerns about separation anxiety. Traveling with a dog may also help you make new friends in an unfamiliar destination. Take your pooch to a neighborhood park and mingle with local pet owners. Mentioning Fido’s travel adventures is always a great conversation starter. Finally, bringing your pet along on your journey may save you some money. Many hotels and vacation rentals welcome pets for no extra fee, saving you big bucks over expensive boarding options.

IT: There are plenty of horror stories about bringing pets on flights, particularly in the cargo hold (for animals too large to bring in the cabin). How can you decide whether it’s safe to fly with your pet?
MH:
Before finalizing any travel plans, be sure to ask your veterinarian whether your pet is healthy enough to travel. Go over the full itinerary in the vet’s office and ask for his/her advice. Even if your pet is perfectly healthy, that doesn’t mean that she is safe to fly.

Reduce the risk of incidents by following a few basic tips: First, you should book nonstop flights whenever possible. Avoid destinations or connecting cities that may expose your pet to extreme temperatures while in cargo, on the tarmac or in the custody of the airlines. Second, anticipate delays and have a backup plan in case your original itinerary is impacted. Third, for your pet’s safety and your own peace of mind, invest in a pet tracker to monitor Fido’s whereabouts throughout your trip. Finally, don’t medicate your pet with tranquilizers, as these medicines can cause heart and respiratory issues. Instead, focus on making sure that Fido is comfortably fitted with an approved crate that is large enough for him to turn around and lie down inside.

IT: Which is a better bet for people traveling with a dog — a vacation rental or a hotel?
MH:
Deciding between a vacation rental or hotel is generally a matter of personal choice, as both have pros and cons. But pet owners may want to consider their pet’s individual needs and personality when making their lodging decision. For the pampered pooch, an upscale hotel may be just the ticket. Some hotels offer amazing pet amenities like doggie dining menus and pet spa services. If your pooch prefers some off-leash time, a vacation home with a fenced backyard would make his holiday special. Regardless of the type of accommodation, always consider the location around the hotel or rental, as you’ll likely be going on late night or early morning walks with your pup.

IT: What advice would you offer people who want to bring their pet on an international vacation?
MH:
Plan ahead. Depending on the destination, you will need to begin preparation weeks, if not months, prior to an international trip. Never book an international flight until you have double-checked that you pet can be safely accommodated and that your pet can satisfy all entry and exit requirements for pet transit.

IT: Which places are easiest for Americans to travel with a pet, and which are the most expensive and/or challenging?

MH: Traveling internationally with a pet is never as simple as paying a fee and setting off on your journey. No matter the destination, you’ll be completing paperwork, scheduling vet appointments and paying hefty sums to get your pet to your intended destination. But pet owners should be particularly cautious when it comes to travel in countries with strict quarantine requirements, such as Australia. Even domestic travel to Hawaii involves quarantine restrictions for your furry friend.

IT: What’s your favorite travel experience that you’ve had with your dog?
MH:
We recently visited the town of Canals, Spain (near Valencia) with our Chihuahua-pug mix, Roxy, to participate in festivities celebrating Saint’s Day for San Antonio Abad. Each year in mid-January, locals and visitors gather for a three-day festival involving parades, a bonfire celebration and the Blessing of the Animals ceremony.

IT: Where are you and your dog headed next?
MH:
We don’t have another international trip planned at the moment, but we’re likely to visit one or two Asian capitals sometime in the next year.

Want to learn more? Check out Halliburton’s book, “Ruff Guide to the United States,” which includes a directory of dog-friendly attractions and hotels across all 50 states. And don’t miss our guide to traveling with pets.

See more travel interviews!

— interview conducted by Sarah Schlichter

Each time I visit New York, I try to embed myself in a different part of the city. Every neighborhood has a different personality, and getting to know more of them has given me a broader appreciation of the greatest city in the world.

traveler with smartphone


For my latest jaunt, I selected the Lower East Side as my base. Two days would never be enough to wander the whole neighborhood and find the best spots to feed my interests in local history and food, so I turned to a newly revamped app to guide me.

Trip.com was my best buddy that weekend, providing personalized recommendations I could have only figured out through hours of advance research — time I didn’t have. At Trip.com’s recommendation, I took a 90-minute Lower East Side walking tour via the Tenement Museum that brought my fuzzy high school memory of U.S. immigrant history back to life. I wandered through the floor-to-ceiling aisles of Economy Candy, a sweets shop in business since 1937. I gorged on fresh arepas at a tiny Venezuelan restaurant and sampled Swedish breakfast pastries for the first time. And I took in an $11, hourlong improv comedy show.

How did Trip.com know these spots were right up my alley? When you download the free app and set up your account, you select from among 20 “tribes” that describe your personality and travel style. I selected “arty,” “foodies” and “local.” Other tribes include “luxury,” “adventure,” “families” and “spiritual.”

trip.com screenshot


Recommendations pop up based on your location and the reviews of others with your same travel interests. For example, 98 percent of other app-using foodies and 87 percent of other travelers who like local spots enjoyed the Essex Street Market, so I popped in there to have lunch one day. Eight-six percent of other arty people liked a gift shop called Alphabets.

I added my own reviews and also created “postcards” (though it wasn’t exactly clear to me what the difference was between the two). With each review or postcard you add, you gain points and badges, if you’re competitive about tracking that sort of thing.

Trip.com has incorporated technologies that also make recommendations based on the local weather. If it’s raining one day, the app won’t give you outdoor suggestions. And in 15 cities, the app provides a calendar of special events. I plan to use this in my own home city too — it sounds quite useful.

Let the TripScout App Be Your City Guide
6 Flight Booking Apps That Could Save You Money

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

This week’s puzzle is a country shapes quiz! Take a look at the silhouette and below and tell us which country you think it is.

mystery country


Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, April 17, 2017, 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 Margaret A Neate, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery country was Thailand. Margaret has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.

— written by Sarah Schlichter