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sphinx pyramids egyptThe ongoing political unrest in Egypt has governments scrambling to evacuate their citizens, cruise lines rerouting itineraries and travelers wondering what will become of their vacation to see the Pyramids.

Whenever trouble strikes in the travel world, you’ll hear experts touting the many virtues of trip insurance — but civil disturbances and riots are excluded from coverage on most policies. So in a case like the protests in Egypt, will travel insurance actually help you? I caught up with Steve Dasseos, President of TripInsuranceStore.com, to find out.

Dasseos explains that when these sorts of events happen, your tour operator, airline or cruise line is responsible for offering an alternate itinerary. “Let’s say you have a tour company that’s going [to Egypt] at the end of this month,” he says. “The tour company or cruise line has to take care of its passengers somehow. They’ll usually offer an alternate itinerary, bonuses, that sort of thing. You can change your travel dates or itinerary with your insurer and go on a completely different trip. That’s no problem.”

If your trip is canceled altogether, your cruise line or tour operator should give you a refund according to the terms and conditions under which you booked your trip. Contact your travel provider as soon as possible to find out what arrangements are being made.

So what happens if you’ve planned your own trip independently? Are you out of luck? “Not completely,” says Dasseos. “Check with your airline first. It’s likely that the airline has changed or canceled its flights. Most airlines don’t charge people penalties for changing their itinerary [when this sort of incident happens]. You can then change the dates on your insurance to apply to your other trip.” He cautions travelers to be sure to let your insurance company know of itinerary changes as soon as possible — before you actually travel.

As for hotels, Dasseos points out that most properties won’t charge you a penalty unless you cancel your reservation within 48 hours of arrival. And in extraordinary circumstances like the Egyptian riots, “I doubt that hotels are going to hold travelers accountable to those cancellation penalties,” he says. “They don’t want to spoil future business.”

If you’ve got a trip to Egypt booked for a few months from now, you’ll need to sit tight. Odds are that your tour operator will wait to see how the situation in Egypt plays out, so your trip may not be canceled or altered just yet. You may want to call off the trip yourself if you’re nervous about traveling to Egypt or if you’d rather go somewhere else instead. But these reasons are not covered by your travel insurance policy unless you purchase “cancel for any reason” coverage. This type of insurance will cover “being afraid to travel or changing your mind,” says Dasseos, “which aren’t normally covered by other policies.”

For nervous travelers, “cancel for any reason” insurance is a good bet for any trip, no matter where you’re headed. You may also want to check out Travel Warnings and Advisories, which offers useful tips on traveling to potentially unstable countries.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Every Monday, we’ll post the answer to the previous week’s Photo Friday quiz. Play along with future photo guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).

The correct answer to last Friday’s photo guessing game is Tikal, Guatemala! Howler monkeys, tropical birds and other jungle animals are now the only permanent inhabitants of this ancient city, which was abandoned by the Mayans sometime around 900 A.D. and is now overgrown with vines and trees. A highlight of any visit is a dizzying climb into one of the site’s several magnificent temples, the largest of which is more than 200 feet tall. Learn more about Tikal in Belize Essentials. (Though it’s in Guatemala, Tikal is a popular day trip from Belize.)

Check back this Friday for another photo guessing game!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Every Friday, we’ll feature a photo of an unidentified place here, on our blog. Think you know where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Monday to see if you were right! Get the answer in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right).



Hint: As you walk through these ruins in the heart of the jungle, you’ll hear the call of howler monkeys overhead.

Leave a comment below to guess the destination!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

bellhop bellman hotel suitcases bagsYou walk into a hotel with a couple of suitcases, fully intending to bring them up to your room yourself. But a bellhop in the lobby, eager to help (and, well, eager to get a tip), leaps forward and grabs your bags. How do you react?

In a recent interview with manners maven Lizzie Post (great-great-granddaughter of Emily), we touched on the topic of hotel tipping, including what to give a bellhop who’s stored your bags for the day. But we didn’t get a chance to chat about what to do when someone forcefully offers a service that you don’t actually want.

So we want to hear from you, our well-traveled readers: how would you respond to an overly enthusiastic bellhop?

A. Just let him take the bags and give him a tip — it’s not worth making a scene.

B. Let him take the bags but don’t tip. You didn’t ask for the service, and you don’t want to reward pushy behavior.

C. Politely but firmly say, “No, thanks, I’ll carry them myself,” and wait for him to drop the bags.

D. Make a mad lunge for the bags and start an impromptu game of tug-of-war, with onlookers in the lobby taking bets on who will win.

Vote or suggest your own response in the comments!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Every Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our newsletter.

Maybe your shot of the Eiffel Tower is backlit. Or your scenic Japanese landscape is marred by the shadow of your thumb in the lower right-hand corner. Or your photo of the White House is all right — except that it looks exactly the same as every other tourist’s photo of the White House.

If you’ve ever been disappointed by travel photos that fail to live up to the real-life experience, you’re not alone. Fortunately, you don’t need a fancy camera or foot-long lenses to improve your skills as a shutterbug. In 19 Tips for Better Travel Photos, IndependentTraveler.com columnist Traveler’s Ed offers this easy suggestion:

“I find that very often a decent photo could have been a great photo if I had just moved a little bit, whether to reframe the photo slightly, or to put something interesting into the background. This can involve moving a few steps forward or back, shifting to one side or the other, or crouching down. As a photographer, you have much more control over what you are doing and where you are standing than you do over the subject matter; if you just stand lead-footed in one spot, your photos will reflect this.”

Instead of just snapping the first view that you see, take a few seconds to set up your shot and experiment with different angles. Adding something interesting to the foreground, shooting from an unusual perspective or shifting the subject in the frame can all make for much more memorable photos.

taj mahal

eiffel tower paris

golden gate bridge san francisco

flower mountain sky

What’s your best travel photo tip?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

win a trip to london from monogramsWe’re celebrating our 20th anniversary — and we want you to celebrate with us! That’s why we’re giving away a free trip for two to London from Monograms. The vacation includes roundtrip airfare from the United States, three nights in London, airport transfers in London, daily breakfast and a sightseeing tour, plus free time to explore the city on your own.

But a trip to London is just one of many fantastic prizes. We’re marking 20 years with 20 days of giveaways, including a NOOKcolor e-reader from Barnes & Noble as well as 20 IndependentTraveler.com T-shirts. You can enter once a day through February 14. The more entries you submit, the more chances you have to win! Click here to enter.

(Sorry, international readers: for legal reasons, we can only open the giveaway to residents of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.)

For more festivities, including a slideshow featuring the highlights of two decades of travel, check out our 20th Anniversary page.

And now we want to hear from you. Which trip of your own stands out the most from the past 20 years — your honeymoon, a once-in-a-lifetime African safari, your first glimpse of the Great Wall of China? Post your favorite travel memory in the comments below.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

romantic beach couple Every Tuesday, we’ll feature the best travel bargain we’ve seen all week right here, on our blog. Be the first to find out which deals make the cut by subscribing to our blog (top right) or signing up for our weekly deals newsletter.

The Deal: This Hotels.com promotion features discounts of up to 60 percent at hundreds of hotels in destinations around the world, for travel from February 10 through February 21. Plus, at select properties, Hotels.com is throwing in extra savings like complimentary movie passes, free nights and other perks. We like this offer because it covers travel during coveted Valentine’s Day weekend — the perfect time for a few romantic nights in a big-city hotel or a whirlwind Caribbean getaway.

This deal includes bargain rates for stays at all-inclusive resorts in addition to hotels. Prices at the beachfront Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica have been slashed by 60 percent, with nightly rates starting at $204 per person (including meals, activities, entertainment and accommodations in charming guestrooms with balconies overlooking the ocean).

The Catch: Discounts vary by property — by a lot. For example, at the Courtyard Marriott on Fifth Avenue in New York City, book a weekend stay and you’ll receive, er, two free movie passes. There’s nothing wrong with a free flick, but it’s no 60 percent discount.

The Competition: Travelocity is currently running a spring hotel sale with discounts of up to 30 percent at urban properties in domestic and international destinations (valid travel dates include stays over Valentine’s Day weekend).

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Group, an operating company of Expedia, Inc., which also owns Hotels.com.


– written by Caroline Costello

Thanks, Jack.

I’m talking about Jack LaLanne, the fitness pioneer who died Sunday at age 96. I have a few years to go before I hit that milestone (well, five decades), but you have to hand it to the guy: he knew how to keep it healthy. And he was an “exercise guru” before anyone really knew what that term meant.

I remember watching Jack on TV as a kid, doing jumping jacks in sync with the chiseled marvel. Today, I struggle to touch my toes. But adventure travelers should look to Jack for inspiration, because nothing can be more ruinous on a vacation than not being prepared for the rigors of a particular destination.

I’m thinking back to a trip I took eight years ago to the Galapagos. I still feel badly for the older travelers among the 29 explorers on our boat — by the end of a strenuous seven-day sail among the islands, three were so worn out they refused to leave the vessel. While the rest of us were looking at blue-footed boobies, they sat on deck chairs staring out to sea. I remember the wildlife expert assigned to the ship bemoaning the fact that they’d blown a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Fast-forward a few years to the Grand Canyon. For months, I’d been preparing for a rim-to-rim trek, working out five days a week, going for miles-long hikes around Washington D.C. and walking seven miles to work with a fully loaded backpack. It wasn’t enough. By the time I reached Phantom Ranch in the bowels of the canyon, my left knee was throbbing, my back aching. The 105-degree temperatures didn’t help. I can’t remember much about getting out of the canyon the next day, except that it was excruciating.

grand canyon


Two years later, I did it again, this time preparing twice as long and arriving with better hiking poles, knee braces and a more realistic attitude. Ok, I battled a stomach bug the night before, but I still made it down in good time — and pain-free.

Now I’m preparing to do it again. I just joined a gym, I’m hiking on the riverside trail that edges my backyard and I’ve taken those knee braces out of storage. All I have to do now is get reservations at Phantom Ranch, which is easier said than done, alas, but well worth the effort.

And Jack? Something tells me that at my age, Mr. LaLanne could have made the hike blindfolded and shoeless — and he sure could do a mean jumping jack.

– written by John Deiner

Every Monday, we’ll post the answer to the previous week’s Photo Friday quiz. Play along with future photo guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).

The correct answer to last Friday’s photo guessing game is Key West, Florida! The building pictured is the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where the writer lived for more than 10 years. Located in the Old Town section of Key West, this Spanish Colonial-style house is now home to more than 60 cats — including a few descendants of Hemingway’s unique six-toed feline. Learn more about Key West and the Hemingway house in our guide to Key West Weekend Getaways.

Check back this Friday for another photo guessing game!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Every Friday, we’ll feature a photo of an unidentified place here, on our blog. Think you know where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Monday to see if you were right! Get the answer in your inbox by subscribing to our blog (top right).



Hint: Once the home of a well-known author, this local landmark now offers refuge to more than 60 cats.

Leave a comment below to guess the destination!

– written by Sarah Schlichter