Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it? (For another example, check out last week’s puzzle.)
This week’s puzzle is three words (one per line) and represents a famous landmark.
Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, March 11, 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 Jerry Carre, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Empire State Building.” He has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.
– written and created by Dori Saltzman and Sarah Schlichter
Would being able to eliminate jet lag make your next long-haul flight more bearable? What about knowing your food tray wouldn’t be jammed into your sternum if the person sitting in front of you decided to recline?
Solutions to both of these air travel problems have recently been proposed, and we at IndependentTraveler.com couldn’t be more excited.
Jet lag is an especially tiresome problem (pun intended) for travelers. But now you can just lather up those photons and erase your jet lag woes, Delta Air Lines promises. And though the “Photon Shower” conjures up futuristic images of a world with hovercrafts and Mars vacations, the device is real — almost.
Designed by a New York firm for Delta, the “Photon Shower” is a vertical shower-stall-style chamber that provides light therapy to users. According to an AdAge blog post, here’s how it works: users input their travel information, then step in and bask in a light sequence that recreates the effects of sunlight, which scientists say combats jet lag and provides a pick-me-up to tired travelers.
Though it was displayed at the latest TED conference in California, the Shower has not yet been rolled out to airports — and Delta is offering no timeline on when it might be available.
A second technology development, equally as exciting, is sadly even farther away from reality. The result of a global student design competition sponsored by the James Dyson Foundation, the AirGo economy seat is something we’d really like to see installed on airplanes. (ABC News agrees.)
The seat, designed by Malaysian engineering student Alireza Yaghoubi, aims to give fliers access to all their limited seat space, even when the person in front of them reclines. To accomplish this, the tray table and TV screen are housed above the seats, so that when a seat is pushed back it does not force the tray table or TV back as well. In Yaghoubi’s design, the two are attached to an individual bulkhead, which also provides guaranteed baggage storage space for each individual seat (another problem many fliers face!).
Yaghoubi told ABC News he got the idea for the seats after several uncomfortable eight-hour flights. On a typical flight, he said, the person in front of him reclined his or her seat, occupying one-third of the space he had paid for.
There’s just one problem with the design. It takes up 16 percent more floor space than the seats most airlines have now. But perhaps fliers would be willing to pay a little extra for the security of knowing they’d actually get to use all the space they paid for.
Given a choice, which of the two technological advancements would you like to see become reality first? Let us know below.
Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it?
This week’s puzzle is two words and represents a bucket list attraction for many people.
Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, March 4, 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.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is J Max Soos, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Taj Mahal.” He has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.
When you fly as often as we do here at IndependentTraveler.com, those in-flight safety demonstrations can get a little boring — so we always perk up when an airline decides to have fun with them. And nobody does that as well as Air New Zealand. Richard Simmons had us wishing we were in pink spandex, while a planeful of elves, wizards and hobbits had us longing for a Middle Earth getaway.
Now Bear Grylls, lately of “Man vs. Wild,” has us readying our fire starter kits and emergency rations. In the latest iteration of the “celebrity” safety briefings, Bear takes viewers on an adrenaline-filled romp through the New Zealand mountains while still buckling up for safety and heeding the flight attendants’ instructions. Take a look:
Do new twists on standard briefings make you any more likely to pay attention? Sound off in the comments below.
When I moved back to the United States from Romania, where I’d been living for two and a half years, I brought home a new husband and, just as importantly, our cat. We’d rescued her from an animal shelter two years before and there was no way we were leaving her behind. So we jumped through all the hoops presented to us — finding an FAA-compliant crate outside of the U.S., getting our cat micro-chipped, having a vet create a pet passport (basically just a record of her health and vaccines) — before my husband crated her up one November morning and brought her with him to the airport for his Lufthansa flights from Bucharest to Frankfurt and then Frankfurt to New York City.
Fourteen hours later my husband and cat arrived safely at JFK. It never really occurred to me that he would land safely and she wouldn’t. But after reading about a recent investigation by NBC Bay Area, I’m counting my lucky stars it turned out so well.
Turns out lots of animals don’t make it. Most stories don’t get into the news, but some do — like the case of former model Maggie Rizer. Back in September 2012, her 2-year-old golden retriever died during a flight from the East Coast to San Francisco.
Perhaps the most famous of all mistreated pets was Jack, the Norwegian forest cat that disappeared in JFK airport after an American Airlines baggage handler dropped his crate. Though he eventually turned up after falling through the ceiling in a customs area, he was so sick and dehydrated that he had to be put down.
Sadly, these stories are not as uncommon as we’d like to think. According to the NBC Bay Area investigation, 302 animals have died, been injured or disappeared while in the care of commercial airlines over a six-year span. The most common cause of death as determined by the airlines was “unknown.” Other common causes — again, as determined by the airlines themselves — were pre-existing medical conditions, escapes from the kennels, self-infliction and natural deaths.
The investigation even revealed which airlines have the worst record. Delta Airlines saw the most tragic outcomes, followed by Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental and United (those last two are now one single entity).
So, does knowing all this make me think twice about flying my cat in the future? You bet it does! What’s worse than knowing that my animal may not be safe in an airline’s care is reading about how the airlines do everything in their power to deny any responsibility for the deaths. Going forward, if I can’t drive to a destination with my cat, then she’s just going to have to fly coach with me.
Have you ever flown your pet somewhere? What was your experience like? And do you think airlines have a responsibility to get your pet to their ultimate destination safe and sound? Weigh in below.
Today is Valentine’s Day, and travel sites will be filling your inbox with lists of romantic hotels and destinations. All will feature wonderful things for couples to do together, and dreamy suites with large bathtubs — including some shaped like hearts and filled with Champagne and chocolates.
But isn’t all of that a little … cliche? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to get an e-mail for Valentine’s Day recommending that you and your loved one visit the Parisian catacombs or tour a historic prison? We think so. We’ve put together a list of four destinations to visit that wouldn’t normally be associated with Valentine’s Day.
Feel free to add your own to the list!
The Parisian Catacombs: A romantic hangout for the “Twilight”-loving crowd it might be, but for most of us the 18th-century catacombs located beneath the streets of Paris are a bit creepy. Still, what better place to be if you want an excuse to cuddle really close to your loved one?
Alcatraz: Also referred to as “The Rock” (hmm, that seems appropriate for Valentine’s Day, actually), Alcatraz is a small island in San Francisco that housed an infamous federal prison from 1934 to 1963. Couples looking for an illicit thrill can give each other a peck on the lips in the (reportedly haunted) cell in which Al Capone once lived.
Verona, Italy: Actually not an unromantic destination at all, Verona is a city located in northeast Italy with an artistic heritage and Roman ruins. Alas, Verona also is known as the place Romeo and Juliet met their doomed end.
Intercourse, Pennsylvania: A rather appropriately named town for Valentine’s Day, don’t you think? This quaint tourist town in Amish Country was used during the filming of the Harrison Ford movie “Witness.” Visitors can check out the local crafts, take a buggy ride or visit the Quilt Museum.
With Chinese New Year coming up on Sunday, I was once again reminded of my “other” zodiac sign — the Rat. In checking out what being a Rat says about my personality, I was struck by how much of the description also translated into how I like to travel.
Rats, according to ChinaHighlights.com, are versatile, curious and quick to adapt to a new environment, and while this description is meant to be applied to a Rat’s attitude to life in general, in my case it also says a lot about my travel preferences. I am driven to visit new places, like a huge variety of travel styles and am generally quick to adapt to any destination I’m visiting.
So I began to wonder: is this true of the other 11 signs, as well? As I began to read the personality descriptions of each sign, I could easily see how they could be applied to a person’s travel style.
And so, in honor of Chinese New Year, I’ve put together a completely unscientific list of Chinese Zodiac travel personalities. Have fun with it!
Rat (Birth Years: 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008) Because people under the sign of the Rat are resourceful and versatile, they enjoy the challenge of travel and are more likely than others to just pick up and go. No packaged tours for Rats. They prefer to plan (or not plan!) their own journeys and, driven by a strong curiosity, seek out new places even when visiting a destination they’ve been to before.
Ox (Birth Years: 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009) With a strong attachment to their home country, people under the sign of the Ox enjoy exploring the travel possibilities of their native lands. And as family-oriented folk, they are partial to vacations with their spouses and children. Oxen also prefer planned travel with detailed itineraries to simply winging it and are less likely to travel last minute.
Tiger (Birth Years: 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010) Brave and competitive, people under the sign of the Tiger like to stand out from the crowd, so they seek out bragging-rights destinations when traveling. Tigers are often the first of their friends to visit a destination, usually some place slightly off the beaten path. Tigers also take great pride in traveling with few plans in place, enjoying the challenge of figuring it all out as they go.
Rabbit (Birth Years: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011) People under the sign of the Rabbit are often described as artistic, so travel to places known for art, cooking and fashion appeal to them. Rabbits also tend to be quieter and more serene than other signs, so they enjoy trips in which quiet time is purposely built in.
Dragon (Birth Years: 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012) Courageous and tenacious by nature, people under the sign of the Dragon particularly like active travel, often in the form of extreme adventure (think bungee jumping and mountain trekking) as they seek out the next thrill. But Dragons have little patience for cultural expectations, so they should avoid countries in which dress codes and humble behavior are expected.
Snake (Birth Years: 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013) Because they are private but also enjoy keeping up with the Jonses, people who fall under the sign of the Snake search for understated yet upscale travel. Snakes prefer Four Seasons to the W, Abercrombie & Kent to Globus and Crystal Cruises to Royal Caribbean. As intellectuals, Snakes also enjoy learning about their destinations and, if given the chance to attend a lecture during their travels, will jump at the opportunity.
Horse (Birth Years: 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002) Because people under the sign of the Horse love to be part of the herd, they seek busy destinations like cities and party resorts, and they’re much more interested in escorted touring than others. “The more the merrier” is a sentiment Horses have taken to heart, and nothing pleases them more than a friends’ getaway or multigenerational vacation with the extended family.
Goat (Birth Years: 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003) Often described as mild-mannered and shy, people who fall under the sign of the Goat like to travel solidly on the beaten path. Goats are just as happy to travel alone as they are in a group (so long as someone else is the leader), and they enjoy destinations that provide food for thought. Goats also are partial to first-class travel options.
Monkey (Birth Years: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004) Intelligent, curious and mischievous, people who fall under the sign of the Monkey want to dig into a city’s unknown history, see what’s hidden in the back room of the popular museum and get past the “Restricted Access” sign. Monkeys, therefore, seek out behind-the-scenes tours and exclusive access opportunities when traveling. Additionally, their destination choices trend toward cities, as their interests are too varied for a non-urban environment.
Rooster (Birth Years: 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005) Frequently described as showoffs, people who fall under the sign of the Rooster enjoy traveling in groups, either with friends or with an escorted group tour, so that they can put themselves at the center of attention. Though Roosters aren’t picky about their travel destination, they prefer to visit places in which they can remain well-groomed and show off their duds — whether it’s the latest cocktail dress or best climbing gear.
Dog (Birth Years: 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006) With fiercely people-oriented personalities, people who fall under the sign of the Dog prefer to travel with others, and especially with close family or friends. Dogs mostly don’t care where they go so long as their spouses, best friends or children are with them.
Pig (Birth Years: 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007) Because people under the sign of the Pig tend to be sympathetic and generous by nature, volutourism opportunities appeal to them. Additionally, in general terms, Pigs tend to remain calm when facing difficult situations, so travel to developing countries in which tourism infrastructures are less modern is easier for Pigs than for people under other signs.
Do you fit your zodiac sign’s travel style? Tell us how similar or how different you are to our predictions.
In a world where being a green hotel often translates into simply asking guests to reuse towels, a new initiative by several hotel brands to eliminate bottled water has gotten our attention.
According to SustainableBusiness.com, a group of hotels and resorts including Virgin, Ritz-Carlton and Banyan Tree plan to reduce their use of plastic water bottles by filtering, bottling (in reusable glass bottles) and selling their own water.
One of the cool things about the project is not only that it will reduce the number of plastic bottles used by the hospitality companies, but also that a portion of the proceeds from the water sales will go to the nonprofit Whole World Water, whose main purpose is to bring clean drinking water to populations that don’t have it.
Virgin expects to eliminate more than 200,000 plastic bottles a year from its Necker Island Resort, Virgin founder Richard Branson wrote on his blog.
“With Whole World Water, we plan to stop use of almost all plastic bottles on Necker,” he wrote. “We’re aiming to reduce the amount of plastic at our other Virgin Limited Edition properties and our new Virgin Hotels.”
The initiative is modeled on a system used by Soneva Resorts at its Maldives and Thailand properties since 2008. The resort’s founder, Sonu Shivdasani, also is a founding member of Whole World Water. The program has improved clean water access for more than 600,000 people, Shivdasani claims.
What we find particularly impressive is that so many competing companies are working together. For instance, Soneva Resorts is actually providing the seed money to get the project going. But it’s not a free ride for any of the companies; each has to pay $1,000 annually per participating property, plus install a water filtration and bottling system at each property.
Participating brands so far include Virgin Limited Edition, Virgin Hotels, Banyan Tree, Auberge du Soleil, Tao Restaurant Group, The Ritz-Carlton Charlotte, The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe, Oberoi Hotels and Resorts, JetWing Hotels, Dusit Hotels and Resorts, and The Ranch at Live Oak Malibu.
The initiative officially kicks off on March 22, World Water Day.
Ever wanted someone to make your restaurant reservations for you when you’re traveling? Or grab tix to the latest theatrical extravaganza on your behalf? Or let you know what the weather will be like tomorrow and the next day? All these tasks and more are what hotel concierges have been doing for their high-end clientele for years. Hand over an extra 20 and the concierge would get you into the hottest ticket in town.
But no longer is that 20 bucks a necessity. Travelocity is getting in on the action, offering concierge service to any customer who books a packaged vacation through the site — for free!
Some of the concierge services offered to customers (only those who purchased from Travelocity after January 1) include restaurant referrals and reservations; theater, music or sporting event tickets; golf course tee time reservations; driving directions; salon and spa booking assistance; ATM and bank locations; weather forecasts; lost passport/travel document assistance; translation services; and legal referral and assistance.
The concierge will even keep customers who request it ahead of time up-to-date with sports scores.
In order to take advantage of the concierge, customers need only phone a special number given to them with their e-mailed travel documents. The service is available immediately after booking, during the trip and up to two days after returning home.
The service, which launched January 1, 2013, is actually operated by Travel Guard, an insurance company that also offers a Concierge Desk. While the use of the concierge to obtain an item or service is free, the cost of the tickets to a Broadway show, as an example, are still the responsibility of the Travelocity customer.
According to Simon Bramly, vice president and general manager of transportation, vacation packages and cruises for Travelocity, the concierge service is intended to enhance the “value” of the site’s vacation packages beyond simply a low price.
But nothing in the corporate world is done without a real bottom-line benefit and one can only guess at the true reason Travelocity has launched this service — a service that must be costing the company money as it doesn’t actually provide it. Online travel booking sites have some of the highest turnover rates in the industry, as most of their customers are simply looking for the lowest price and will hop from site to site to find it. I think it’s a safe bet to say Travelocity is hoping that by adding this service, its vacation package customers will come back to the site not just for the low price but because they’re also getting the free concierge help.
Will the free concierge service influence whether you decide to purchase a vacation from Travelocity or not?
TripAdvisor announced the winners of its Travelers’ Choice awards for the best U.S. hotels today. Ten hotels in six categories received “top” honors, including top overall, top hotels for service, top small hotels and top bargains. As I was reading through the list, I was struck by two things. First, I haven’t been to a single one of the 60 hotels mentioned (maybe I need to get out more often) and second, when I tried to think of places I would add to the list, I could only think of two properties, neither of which I’d really describe as a hotel.
Now, I’ve been to plenty of hotels (small and large), and I’ve enjoyed myself at quite a few of them, but none that I would actually call a “hotel” stands out enough in my memory that I would consider putting them on any list of top hotels.
In my mind hotels are fairly institutional. They might be gorgeously landscaped or situated in the perfect place, but they’re all similarly laid out and have a similar feel.
Sure, bits and pieces stand out. The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa in California had the best-smelling skin lotion I’ve ever come across. And the Virginia Hotel in Cape May, New Jersey, had just the most comfortable porch for sipping drinks on a warm evening. But beyond that … eh, they were hotels.
The Soniat House in New Orleans is probably the nearest thing to a “hotel” that I’d put on a top list. Of course, the small 30-room guesthouse is more like a B&B or inn than a traditional hotel. Comprising three converted townhouses with flower-draped balconies, Soniat House exudes an unparalleled yesteryear atmosphere.
But my favorite U.S. place to stay is as un-hotel-like as a property can get. Called Wellspring, it’s a small, off-the-beaten-path collection of about 17 cottages, cabins and permanent tents located just outside Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. With names like the Three Bears’ Cottage, the Treehouse and Timbuktu, each cottage, cabin and tent is completely different. But all are cozy, calming and completely unforgettable.