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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 15, 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.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

gubeikou great wall of chinaIt’s that time of the week! Catch up on all the great travel stories you may have missed over the past seven days.

Walking the Great Wall’s Wild Side
This engaging story from the Alaska Airlines blog details a hiking adventure along an unrestored section of the Great Wall of China. Along the way the writer befriends three local women and tests his own bravery in the face of narrow paths and precipitous ledges.

Air Emergencies: Are Airlines Telling You What You Need to Know?
Canada’s CBC News reports that many airline safety briefings leave out a key bit of information that could save your life in a crash. A safety researcher quoted in the article says that using the brace position (in which you stabilize your body by bending over with your head against the seat in front of you) can “reduce severity of injuries” and “reduce deaths.” The position is illustrated on the safety card in your seatback pocket but often not mentioned in safety videos or live demonstrations by flight attendants.

How Scientists Are ‘Hacking’ the Body to Override Jet Lag
Could flashing lights help cure jet lag? That’s the latest from Conde Nast Traveler, which reports on a new study that tested short flashes of light administered 10 seconds apart while study participants were sleeping. This treatment is believed to help the brain acclimate more quickly to time changes.

Nanyuki: The Kenyan Town Where Your Valentine’s Roses Are Grown
We had no idea until we read this Rough Guides article that Kenya was a key supplier of roses to the European Union. The writer profiles the market town of Nanyuki, an expat hub with a perfect climate for growing flowers.

Minimum Airline Seat Standards Could Become Law
Traveler advocate Christopher Elliott brings welcome news in a post on LinkedIn, writing about a recently proposed Congressional bill that would establish a minimum size for airplane seats (which seem to be shrinking by the day). We’re keeping our fingers crossed!

Life in Paris’s 10th and 11th Arrondissements, 3 Months After the Attacks
New York Magazine interviews a number of locals in the areas of Paris most affected by November’s terrorist attacks, from a rapper who wrote a song about the tragedy to a restaurant owner trying to move past her anxiety.

A Robot Butler Is Replacing Humans in Some California Hotels
The next time you ring the front desk staff to ask if they have a spare toothbrush, you might find the real-life equivalent of R2-D2 bringing it to your door. Business Insider reports on a growing trend of robots in hotels, with about a dozen properties now employing them in California.

This week’s video features droolworthy footage from the Norwegian fjords, where a dedicated young guitarist hauled his instrument up to a few of the region’s most spectacular overlooks.


Top Tips for Fighting Jet Lag
The Best and Worst Days to Fly

— written by Sarah Schlichter

world mapI recently stumbled across a website that lets you create a customized map highlighting all the countries you’ve visited. (You can try it yourself at Traveltip.org.) While I initially considered it merely a fun exercise, I found myself hesitating as I checked off a few of the options — could I really count Denmark if I’d only spent an overnight there between flights and didn’t actually get to see anything besides my hotel? (My answer: Nope.) But I did count Guatemala, which I visited on a day trip from Belize.

Everyone draws the line differently when deciding which countries to count — or not to count — on their own personal lists. In The Politics of Country Counting, Sam Wright Fairbanks of Map Happy offers several different criteria you might use, such as spending at least 24 hours, getting through customs or traveling to more than one city within the country.

And then, of course, there are places that may not technically be countries, such as Taiwan or Greenland — do you count those? What about Scotland vs. England vs. Northern Ireland, all part of the United Kingdom but different in culture and history? Map Happy points to a couple of travel clubs that address this by splitting the world into not only internationally recognized countries but also smaller geographical territories and areas. These include the Travelers’ Century Club — which considers places like Alaska, Hawaii, Prince Edward Island and the Isle of Man to be separate from their parent countries — and Most Traveled People, which slices the world into a whopping 875 regions you can visit. (You must become a member of the club to see the region list.)

No matter which standard you use, counting countries is a fun exercise, though I sometimes have to remind myself not to take it too seriously. While shooting for your 10th or 50th or 100th country can inspire you to plan new adventures, the world isn’t a checklist — and just because you’ve visited a particular country, it doesn’t mean that you’ve “done” that place in the sense that you’ve experienced everything it has to offer.

Of course, none of that will stop me from trying to fill in a few more spots on that Travelertip map.

Photos: 9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should
Bucket List Travel

How do you determine whether you’ve visited a country?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

photographer gardenPhotos are the best souvenir you can bring home from a trip, in my opinion. There are countless resources online to help you take better travel photos, including some excellent articles on our website. (Shameless plug for my favorites: 19 Tips for Better Travel Photos and 12 Things You Don’t Photograph — But Should.)

Here are five new photography resources online:

Beyond the Selfie Stick: A New Angle on Travel Photography: If you’re tired of taking selfies, you can now hire a professional photographer to accompany you on vacation and take magazine-like photos of you. Skift reports on two such companies: Flytographer, which connects travelers with local photographers in 160 cities, and El Camino, a tour company that includes the services of a pro photographer in your vacation package. (Check out our post about Flytographer.)

How to Hashtag Your Photos on Instagram: Want to maximize the number of people who see your travel photography on Instagram? Make sure you’re using the right hashtags, advises Stephanie Rosenbloom of the New York Times. For example, if you photograph a gorgeous tree, don’t just mark your photo #tree; use #treelovers.

Wanderlust Photo of the Year Competition: Looking at professional photographers’ images can be intimidating — but seeing the winning shots from Wanderlust travel magazine’s 2016 amateur photo contest invokes pride. Among the top shooters in the wildlife, landscape, people and icon categories are a police officer, an accountant, a schoolteacher and a minster.

The Natural Photographer: This new site from photographer and nature tour guide Court Whelan of the adventure travel company Natural Habitat Adventures focuses on capturing images of animals and nature. Whelan knows the types of shots travelers like to get — close-ups of cool critters, silhouettes against sunsets, wide-angle landscapes that make your Facebook friends jealous. The site also includes basics on using camera settings, composing shots and choosing equipment.

Getting Started in Travel Photography: The website PetaPixel published this great primer last week by photographer Viktor Elizarov, who gives solid advice on starting out small and growing your skills. You don’t need to book a pricey trip to Southeast Asia to find great subjects for your first foray in travel photography, he advises. You can start in your own neighborhood.

12 Travel Photography Mistakes to Avoid
How to Back Up Photos When You Travel

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

We’re introducing a new type of puzzle this week: a word scramble. Below are the scrambled 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.

OOGTAB, CIAOMOBL

CHLOOKSTM, ENWSDE

AEARMKSRH, OOCMROC

NUORBMLEE, RAATSAIUL


Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, February 8, 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 Lou Pereira, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN

MARRAKESH, MOROCCO

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA


— created by Sarah Schlichter

meroe pyramids sudanWhat travel news have you missed this week? Catch up with our list of the week’s best stories.

The Pyramids Few Tourists Have Ever Seen
Did you know that Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt? This photo essay from BBC Travel offers a fascinating glimpse at these ancient ruins, which receive only about 10 visitors a day.

A 16-Hour Dreamliner Flight with No Jet Lag? Believe It!
United is launching a new 16-hour route from San Francisco to Singapore aboard an aircraft that could revolutionize the way we feel after a long flight, reports Conde Nast Traveler. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has more humidity than most planes and makes travelers feel like they’re flying at a slightly lower altitude than they would on a standard flight — both of which will help travelers feel less tired and dried-out when they touch down. It should all add up to less jet lag; here’s hoping!

Why 2016 Will Be a Terrible Year for Earning Frequent Flier Miles
Bad news for anyone who loves using their miles for free flights — later this year American will join Delta and United in awarding miles based on the fare you pay rather than the miles you fly, reports Skift. That means that most non-elite travelers and fliers who pay the lowest available fare will likely earn fewer miles. To add insult to injury, the price of award tickets is also going up.

Five Myths About Airline Food
USA Today separates fact from fiction when it comes to airline food. Is it true that all airplane meals are frozen and reheated later? Are they designed to make passengers sleepy? Are all the good meals saved for those in the front of the plane? The story answers these questions and more.

London Lost and Found
We loved reading this thoughtful essay from the New York Times on what it’s like to come back as a tourist to a place you once lived. The author vividly captures that complicated mix of familiarity and strangeness in a city you used to know well.

EasyJet Unveils Plan for “Hybrid” Planes Using Hydrogen Fuel Cells
CNN reports that easyJet (a European low-cost carrier) is trying out a new technology that could save 50,000 tons of fuel each year and reduce its airplanes’ carbon emissions. Hydrogen fuel cells could essentially turn the carrier’s planes into hybrid aircraft, allowing them to take off and land without using any fuel. It sounds promising — but even if it works, the technology is likely at least five years away.

Get your tissues ready for this week’s featured travel video, a heartwarming offering from British Airways.


4 Travel Videos That’ll Make You Want to Get Up and Go
10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

— written by Sarah Schlichter

mazar i sharif mosqueEver dreamed about taking a trip to Afghanistan? How about Pakistan, Chechnya or Somalia? For travelers with a lust for adventure and a high tolerance for risk, there’s a company that will take you to these and many other seemingly dangerous places.

Untamed Borders was founded in 2006 by Kausar Hussain and James Wilcox, two adventure guides who met in the mountains of Afghanistan. Their mission is to offer “unparalleled access to some of the world’s most interesting and inaccessible places,” according to the company’s website.

Itineraries include an annual “Melons & Grapes — Grand Afghan Tour,” a two-week trip that combines a few days in Kabul with time in remote rural areas and ancient cities; a weeklong journey called “Chechnya, Dagestan and Russia’s Deep South,” which stops in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Derbent, a fortified Persian hill town; and a 16-day exploration of the tribal states in northeastern India. More active adventures are also available, including horse trekking in Tajikistan, glacier trekking in Pakistan and even running a marathon in Afghanistan.

The group size is always small — no more than 12 people, and often fewer — both for safety reasons and to keep the trips flexible. The company can also arrange custom trips for journalists, climbers, skiers, photographers or independent travelers interested in certain areas.

Of course, the big question is: Just how safe are these trips? The FAQ section on the company’s website notes that certain parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan are significantly more dangerous than others, and the trips are deliberately planned in the safer areas. In an article on CNN, the company notes that months of planning go into each trip, including plenty of brainstorming for worst-case scenarios.

The company relies on government warnings as well as first-hand info from local guides and contacts living in each country. On some trips, groups travel not only with guides but also with a security detail. All itineraries are subject to change if the situation on the ground becomes unstable, and guests must have travel insurance that covers them in the country they’re visiting. (Note: This may be difficult to find, but Untamed Borders can recommend a few specialty insurers.)

Such remote adventures don’t come cheap. Organized group trips start at 1,600 GBP per person (about $2,300 USD as of this writing), which includes accommodations, transportation, guides and breakfast. Travelers are responsible for flights, visas, insurance and other meals. If you’re traveling solo, you won’t need to pay a single supplement, but you will be expected to share a room with someone else in the group.

Travel Warnings and Advisories
18 Surefire Ways to Get Sick While Traveling

Would you consider a trip with Untamed Borders?

libryia jonesWhile Libryia Jones was obtaining a master’s degree, she explored the idea of doing an overseas internship in China. After reviewing the program’s requirements, she quickly realized she didn’t qualify because she had a child. Other programs she looked into had the same rule.

“I thought, ‘Why should it be not for me just because I’m a mom?'” said Jones, an information technology project manager in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jones knew she wasn’t the only person who wanted to live abroad but felt held back for one reason or another — so she decided to do something about it through a new start-up venture called My Wander Year.

From a pool of applicants, Jones and her team will select a group of 30 to 50 people who will live overseas for a year starting this August, basing themselves in Prague, Czech Republic, for the first three months. They then will move to Chiang Mai, Thailand, for three months, followed by Cape Town, South Africa, and Panama City, Panama.

The Wander Year team will arrange for flights, lodging in a condo or small inn, a SIM card for a smartphone and group office space for participants who will work remotely. The group will have occasional meetings and excursions, but what participants do with the rest of their time is totally up to them. Some people may have the option of continuing their existing job from abroad. Others may take classes or simply enjoy living in a different city.

The initial application requirements are basic: You must be 21 years or older, have been to another country at least once in your life and speak English. And yes, participants may have kids (though the children must be over the age of 8 to apply). There are a few essay questions and an interview involved, and selected participants will undergo a background check.

“We are looking for people who can articulate a real desire to grow through this experience and who intend to contribute to this community,” Jones said in an interview. “We want to invite cool people who we would love to spend a year with.”

The cost to participate for the year is $2,000 per month, with an initial fee of $3,000. A spouse or child can be added on for an additional cost.

Jones preferred not to reveal how many applications she has received thus far, only saying that they’ve gotten “well over the number of slots available.” Applications are still being accepted on the My Wander Year website. The application fee is $25.

Living Like a Local: Interviews with Expats
10 Things You Should Never Wear When Traveling Abroad

— 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 city is known for a famous mountain and the penguin colony pictured above.

Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, February 1, 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 Shayla Story, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Cape Town, South Africa. Shayla 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

airplane cloudsCatch up on the latest travel views and news with our weekly roundup.

A Major Study Is Out and What It Says About Trends in Airfares Could Save You Big Bucks
Frommer’s breaks down the highlights from a new study on airfares — including the best days of the week to buy a ticket (Saturday and Sunday) and how far in advance to book depending on where you’re going. The sweet spot for tickets to Europe, for example, is 176 days out.

Enterprising New Yorker Builds Igloo During Blizzard, Lists It on Airbnb
Via Metro.co.uk comes our favorite story of the week, about a resourceful Brooklynite who tried to use Winter Storm Jonas to make a buck. He built an igloo in his yard that he then listed on Airbnb for a whopping $200 a night, describing it as a “chic dome-style bungalow for you and bae.” (As appealing as it sounds, don’t waste time trying to book it — Airbnb has since removed the listing.)

Passport Expiring Soon? Renew It Now, State Dept. Says
The U.S. State Department is urging Americans whose passports will expire in the coming year to renew as soon as possible, reports the New York Times. A perfect storm of various factors could overwhelm the State Department later this year, so you’ll want to allow plenty of time if you’re up for renewal.

WWII Concentration Camp to Be Turned into a Luxury Resort in Montenegro
Okay, who thought this was a good idea? CNN reports that the uninhabited Adriatic island of Mamula, where a 19th-century fortress served as a concentration camp during WWII, will soon be turned into a luxury resort. While the developer overseeing the project promises that the history and architecture of the island will be respected, we can’t imagine many tourists are hankering to stay in a former concentration camp on vacation.

Don’t Mind the Wet Nose: TSA Enlists More Dogs to Screen Passengers
This entertaining story from the Washington Post takes a look behind the scenes at the lives of the TSA’s canine members, who use their sensitive noses to sniff out explosive materials at airports around the country. As one of their handlers describes it, the dogs are playing “the most fun game of hide-and-seek in the world.”

“Airbnbs for Dining” Give Italian Female Chefs Chance to Shine
We’ve written before about websites that allow travelers to dine with locals in their homes (see Beyond Restaurants: Eight Ways to Savor a Local Food Scene), but the Guardian describes this phenomenon from a different perspective: that of the hosts who get a chance to share their cooking skills. This piece focuses on female chefs in Italy, where most restaurants are headed by men.

11 Best Italy Experiences

This week’s featured video will help you take packing to a new level by rolling an entire day’s outfit into a pair of socks(!).


The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time
4 Signs You Have a Packing Problem

— written by Sarah Schlichter