Home

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Forums Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

galapagosThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from Susan Brackett, who wrote, “Yikes is that my shadow.” Susan has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug!

Runners-up that we also loved:

“Move along! This beach is sealed until further notice.” — Raymond Dove

“The tourists are coming, the tourists are coming!” — Denise Viorde

“Don’t taunt me Lizard Man!” — Sharon Wilk

To see all of the submissions, click here.

This week’s photo was taken in the Galapagos Islands and submitted by reader Jose Luis Fiallos. He has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel comfort kit.

Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

What’s going on in this photo? Come up with a clever caption for this zany travel pic and you could win an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

galapagos


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, April 15, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal our favorite caption on Monday.

The photo above was submitted by reader Jose Luis Fiallos, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel comfort kit. Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

paris photographer birdsFriends recently took a trip to Paris — Paris in the springtime! So romantic, right? I imagined photos of them snuggling on the Pont des Arts snapped by a passerby or those arm’s-length-type shots we all take of ourselves and our sweethearts, perhaps tete-a-tete in a Paris cafe. But these two friends are photographers, so any shots of them are of them taking pictures. They never travel without their cameras, lenses, tripods and gear.

Picture Perfect: Tips from a Travel Photographer

My husband and I rarely travel — domestically, anyway — without our discs. We’ve played disc golf courses in several counties of our home state and about five other states. We’ve discovered some lovely parks and gorgeous vistas that way, spots intended more for community use than tourism. It’s a great way to get to meet some locals and see another side of a destination.

There’s another hobby to which we’ve just been introduced that also uncovers spots hidden from a tourist’s — or even local’s — view. My brother and sister-in-law got us hooked on Geocaching. What is it? Geocaching.com explains it as “a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices.” It’s nerdy — sorry bro — but addictive.

So far we’ve only cached in our town and neighboring areas. We even dragged our son and daughter-in-law out caching in their town. And what did we find? A beautiful nature trail right down the street from them that they didn’t even know existed. I can’t wait to take this hobby on the road. There are caches hidden in nearly every country — in cities and in rural areas. There are caches in Uruguay, Mauritius and Isle of Man. They exist in Fiji and even France. So the photos we take on our travels will likely be of wild finds that nearly stumped us — and the side discoveries we weren’t trying to find.

But we don’t take all our hobbies along when we travel. Some just aren’t travel-worthy, but this one is (provided you have international service on your smartphone).

Traveling with a Smartphone: Cut Costs Overseas

What hobbies, if any, do you take with you on your travels?

– written by Jodi Thompson

Photo courtesy of K. Bailey Fucanan.

paris fashion sunglasses eiffel towerWhat exactly are “rude” countries and “rude” cities?

I’ll tell you what they are: Places that travel Web sites and publications routinely turn to in order to get people talking (and, uh, clearly it works).

A few weeks ago, Skyscanner — a Web site that compares rates on different airlines — announced that its users had deemed France the world’s rudest country, with Russia taking the second spot. (The United States was No. 6.) By default, that apparently makes Paris the world’s rudest city. And in January, Travel + Leisure magazine announced its readers’ picks for America’s rudest cities, with New York taking the top “prize.” Slots two through through five went to Miami, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Boston.

I’ve been to all of these cities, and I’ll be darned if I can tell which one is ruder than the other. I’ve seen heroic acts of kindness in the Big Apple, and while you can’t take the French out of the French, I’ve never felt particularly ill at ease while tromping near the Arc de Triomphe. Washington D.C.? Having lived there for nearly two decades, I always considered the place ridiculously pleasant.

Rudeness is most definitely in the eyes of the beholder, and no doubt travelers have a different take on things than those who live in these bastions of ill manners. I had a former boss who insisted that the only way to avoid rudeness in places like Paris, New York and London (Skyscanner deems the British the third-rudest nationality) was to blend in with the locals, and I always thought was a terrible idea. Why? Because the natives can sniff out posers immediately, and they’ll turn on you.

12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place

Instead, I’ve found that being polite myself begets politeness in others. Dressing appropriately (sorry, no flip-flops in Notre Dame) and adhering to local customs goes a long way toward endearing you to the locals. Learning a bit of the native language puts others at ease and shows that you’re at least trying. And by all means, if you bumble into New York thinking that everyone is going to be rude to you … you’ll probably leave thinking they were.



– written by John Deiner

last minute travelMy mom and I leave on Thursday for a long weekend trip to Chicago. We booked our flights just two weeks ago, and didn’t nail down our hotel reservations until last Friday night.

As someone who normally books a few months in advance — and starts planning and daydreaming about a trip long before that — I’ve found myself in the somewhat unfamiliar role of a last-minute traveler. Forget about spending weeks leafing through guidebooks, scouring hotel reviews and seeking out inspirational travel photos on Flickr in the slow build-up to a trip. Mom and I found a complementary gap in our busy schedules and jumped at it before the opportunity slipped away.

I’ve discovered that there are things to be said for the last-minute approach — as well as a few major drawbacks.

Pros:
1. There’s no danger of overscheduling ourselves. Mom and I have done enough research to pinpoint a few must-sees, but otherwise we’re going to keep our itinerary flexible and spontaneous.

2. We don’t have the torment of waiting months for a much-anticipated vacation. With a last-minute trip, you book, pack and go.

Best Bets for Booking a Last-Minute Trip

Cons:

1. There’s no time to wait and track airfares in hopes that they’ll drop. The price of our flights jumped $50 a few days after we chose our travel dates — but with gas prices on the rise, I suspected we weren’t going to do any better, so I went ahead and booked. (Turns out I was right: The fares are now double what they were when I first started looking. So much for last-minute deals!)

2. Accommodation options are limited. By the time we got around to booking our hotel, a lot of interesting places were already sold out. All that was left in the affordable category were dive motels, a B&B with shared bathrooms and a few rental apartments in far-flung neighborhoods. (We went with option B.)

Our Favorite Chicago Hotels

Do you enjoy getting away at the last minute, or do you prefer having a little more time to plan?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

house in the clouds suffolk englandThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from Jean Jonker, who wrote, “I found the PEZ Museum!” Jean has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

Runners-up that we also loved:

“Keepin’ up with the Weasleys” — Liz Richardson

“Well, at least there won’t be any solicitors!” — BJP

“Yes, it’s our little bit of heaven but we should have put in an elevator.” — Nancy James

To see the rest of the submissions, click here.

Friday’s photo was of the House in the Clouds in Suffolk, England, which is available for rental. Interested in a lofty stay? See HouseintheClouds.co.uk.

Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

What’s going on in this photo? Come up with a clever caption for this quirky travel pic and you could win an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

house in the air


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, April 8, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal our favorite caption on Monday.

Do you have a funny or bizarre photo that we could use for a future caption contest? Send it to us at feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put “Caption Contest” in the subject line.) If we feature your photo on our blog, we’ll send you a prize.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

temple of kukulcanIt’s a money-back guarantee like no other: If the world stops spinning December 21, 2012, this hotel will refund double your vacation expenses — surely a welcome relief in the midst of Armageddon.

A group of luxury hotels in the Mexican Riviera Maya is offering this double-money-back guarantee in addition to a free night of accommodations on Doomsday and free roundtrip transportation — well, it could be one-way if the world does indeed end.

4 Unique Activities to Do in Riviera Maya, Mexico

Here’s how it works: Book at least three nights during the winter solstice this year at one of the four Condo Hotels Playa del Carmen and you won’t pay for December 21. They’ll also provide free transportation to Chichen Itza, about three hours away. Room rates start at $175 per night.

Chichen Itza, Mayan for “at the mouth of the well,” is a sacred Mayan site in the Mexican state of Yucatan where the Temple of Kukulcan, a k a El Castillo, sits. The stepped pyramid is said to be the physical embodiment of the Mayan Calendar with 91 steps on each of four sides. Surely, if Doomsday arrives, this spot will be ground zero.

The Maya were skilled astronomers, but NASA states on its Web site that there is no science to support any end-of-the-world predictions. According to NASA, this story began with claims that a planet/meteor is on a collision path with Earth. The proposed impact was set for May 2003, but when June 2003 arrived, the fable was linked to the end of the Mayan calendar and, ta-da, new day for Rapture.

However, just as the calendar we hang on our fridge ends each December 31, the Mayan long-count calendar (a 5,125-year cycle) ends and starts anew. The Maya simply didn’t last long enough to print a new calendar. Just as we see January 1 each year as an opportunity to start anew, an apocalypse alternative is to see the end of the long-count calendar as a time of major renewal and rebirth.

Whether Judgment Day finds you in front of a heavenly authority or acting as your own arbitrator, you might as well celebrate. So, make your Doomsday plans, but book your 2013 adventure, too. Life’s short; it’s a gamble and there are few guarantees.

Which Caribbean Island is Right for You?

–written by Jodi Thompson

If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic or a super-long line at airport security and wished there were an alternative, get a load of this: the world’s first flying car successfully completed a flight test two weeks ago — and in just a year’s time, you could be the proud owner of one.

According to Yahoo!, the Transition, a two-seater vehicle designed by Massachusetts-based Terrafugia, Inc., runs on regular unleaded gasoline and gets about 35 miles to the gallon on land, where it can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. In the air, it will reach altitudes of 1,400 feet — much lower than commercial planes — and travel at about 115 m.p.h. At the end of the day, the driver can land it, retract its wings and park it in the garage. See the Transition in action in the video below:


About 100 people have already put down deposits, but, with a price tag expected to reach nearly $300,000, we wonder just how big (or small) the market will be. Operation of the flying car as a plane requires owners to pass a test and clock 20 hours of in-flight training time, which really isn’t much. In our opinion, it sure beats a full-body scan.

Fly from New York to London in Two Hours

Some things to consider: Although the Transition is fun and quirky and would likely make Inspector Gadget jealous, it won’t get you out of that aforementioned traffic jam since it requires space to extend its wings and take off. Nor will it be a plausible alternative for long-haul commercial flights; it can only fly a few hundred miles before you’ll have to stop and refuel.

Plus we think it raises safety concerns. Imagine “pilots” literally jetting around their suburban neighborhoods simply because they have enough room and low-lying airspace to do so. (We can just see 16-year-old Junior borrowing the keys and getting stuck in the power lines.) And the Transition still has to finish a series of crash safety tests before the federal government can attest that it’s up to the standards of other vehicles on the road.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

So what do you think? Would you buy one if you had the funds? Would you use it in lieu of taking commercial flights? Would you be comfortable with your neighbors owning one? Share your thoughts below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Want to pack anything more than a laptop and a change of underwear on your next flight? You’d better pony up. As of tomorrow, low-cost carrier Allegiant Air will join Spirit Airlines in charging a fee not only for checked bags but also for any carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of you, reports MSNBC.com.

If you want your carry-on in the overhead bin, you’ll have to shell out $35 at the airport — or $10 – $30 (depending on your itinerary) if you pay online in advance. The charges will not apply to passengers who booked their flights before the new rules were instituted. If you check a bag instead, the cost ranges from $14.99 to $35, depending on where you’re traveling and whether you pay online or at the airport.

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Spirit Airlines became the first carrier to charge for carry-on bags back in 2010 (which later inspired the design of a new suitcase to help travelers avoid the fees). For travelers like me who prefer to travel with a carry-on only, this is a frightening trend. Aviation consultant Robert Mann told MSNBC.com that he didn’t think these fees would spread to the major carriers: “No business-oriented airline would do this to customers with a laptop and valet bag — they would drive them right off the airplane.”

But I’m not convinced. If the airlines have a chance to make a few extra millions from yet another fee, why wouldn’t they? Let us know what you think.



– written by Sarah Schlichter