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cell phone plane flightSay it ain’t so, Virgin Atlantic.

Comes word this morning that Virgin Atlantic has become the first British airline to allow in-flight cell phone calls. The AeroMobile service — which debuted Tuesday on Virgin’s New York to London service — is available on the airline’s A330-300′s to fliers who get their phone service through O2, Vodaphone and T-Mobile.

According to ABC News, the airline said this likely annoyance is “intended for use in exceptional situations, when passengers need to send a [text], make a quick call or access an e-mail on a Blackberry.” Due to bandwidth issues, only six passengers can use their phones at one time, though it’s unclear who or what will regulate who the lucky six are.

Top Five Airlines for In-Flight Entertainment

The airline isn’t charging extra for the service, though the Associated Press notes that callers will be subjected to the usual jaw-dropping roaming rates. Virgin joins a tiny minority of carriers that allow cell phone usage, including Dubai-based Emirates (the first carrier to break the barrier in 2008), Oman Air and Royal Jordanian. (The service is not yet available on any U.S. airlines, as the Federal Aviation Administration does not allow cell phones to be used in flight unless they’re in “airplane mode,” which allows fliers to play games but not make calls or send texts.)

I know what you’re thinking, so let’s let George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog.com, say what’s on your mind. As he told ABC: “The airline cabin is the last refuge for those who wish to be out of earshot of someone yelling into a mobile phone, so I imagine that many passengers are not going to welcome this. I can just imagine sitting next to someone gabbing about nothing at the top of his or her lungs for hours on end. I predict a number of mobile phones will be snatched out of hands and stomped on. Just what we need, with all the other in-flight hostilities that passengers deal with.”

Amen, George. Using phones on takeoff and landing will remain off-limits (and we’ve all seen those who’ve flouted those rules — we’re talking about you, Alec Baldwin), but once you turn on those electronic devices … watch out. I’ve got a bad feeling that this won’t be the last airline to allow in-flight calls, so it’s not hard to imagine a blabby future where passengers from every angle are catching up with family and friends at 32,000 feet.

What do you think? Is allowing in-flight cell phone usage a godsend or an unimaginable evil?



– written by John Deiner

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns Airfarewatchdog.com.

When you’ve only got one day in a new city, what do you do to make the most of it?

Maybe you pick one or two must-see attractions and concentrate your time there. Or you throw the itinerary out the window and let yourself wander from neighborhood to neighborhood, soaking up the atmosphere. Or maybe, as I did on a recent trip to Brooklyn, you take a tour.

In fact, I took two. As an independent traveler, I tend to avoid big coach tours — you know, the ones that have the canned narration over the P.A. system and only let you off the bus for two minutes at a time. I opted instead for two small-group tours that each focused on a particular aspect of the local culture — because even though my time was short, I still wanted a true taste of the place from a local’s perspective.

What Not to Do in a New City

In the morning, Matt Levy of Levys’ Unique New York led a “Graffiti to Galleries” tour with an emphasis on street art in both Williamsburg — Brooklyn’s latest “hot” neighborhood — and Bushwick, where crumbling factories are being reclaimed as canvases for young artists. The tour took us to places I’d have never thought to visit on my own.

street art bushwick brooklyn



street art bushwick brooklyn



Brooklyn native Dom Gervasi, founder of Made in Brooklyn Tours, focused his tour exclusively on homegrown shops and galleries, and the people who run them. We heard the stories of Dewey Oblonsky, who started her own colorful candy shop after being laid off after decades working in the fashion industry, and Lori Fields, who creates custom-designed sweatshirts at a place called Neighborhoodies. Forget the ticky-tacky tourist shops. For travelers who love to support small businesses and come home with souvenirs they couldn’t buy anywhere else, this is the tour for you.

olga guanabara brooklyn dumbo



dewey's candy dumbo brooklyn



Levys’ Unique New York offers customized tours for individuals and groups. Rates vary widely depending on the size of the group, but generally cost about $50 per person per hour for a private tour. Made in Brooklyn Tours cost about $35 per person for a half-day tour.

Want more ideas for exploring your next destination in depth? Check out Eight Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

couple map car lostThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from Daryll Doda, who wrote, “You can forget looking for the rest area. The dog just went in my lap.” Daryll has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug!

Runners-up that we also loved:

“I’m telling him the map is upside down in 3, 2, 1…” — Bill James

“Maybe we could trade the dog in for a GPS.” — Jeffrey C

“Hey Magellan, [you're] already lost? How about we pull out of the driveway!” — Lisa M

To see all of the submissions, click here.

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.

couple map car lost


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, May 13, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal our favorite caption on Monday. Please be sure to abide by our community guidelines when commenting.

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

traveler mistakeTravel teaches us so many things about the places we go and the people we meet. It also teaches us what we should never, ever do again. Things like ordering from a menu we can’t read with no help — on a squeamish stomach; or renting a car that is just too small for three across the back seat; or not packing swim shoes for a trek through a mangrove swamp.

But we’ve already learned from our plentiful travel blunders, so we asked you on Facebook: What travel mistake have you promised yourself you’ll never make again?

18 Ways to Keep the Peace with Your Travel Companion

There were a few stories hidden in some of your gaffes. We can only imagine what happened to inspire Jacqueline Wong Miller to write: “I will always remember to check my carry-on bag for random fruit I may have put in there BEFORE I go through customs, especially if I ever go to Chile again!” Or Shereen Rayle to write: “I will never rent a car out of the country again without looking at the crime rate and researching parking garages/lots nearby.” We wouldn’t want to lose a rental car or be accused of trafficking plums, either.

We’ve all experienced goof-ups that have cost us money. Vida Morkunas learned to exchange currency at a bank, Sara Sarit Nakash discovered the value of travel insurance and Willis C. Self III found out why he shouldn’t forget to validate his ticket on an Italian train.

The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas

Some of your responses were familiar old lessons, well learned. We nodded in agreement when Dalia Garcia promised herself she’d never wait too long to book a flight using miles, always bring a sleep mask and earplugs, and never take more than three pairs of shoes. Elizabeth Hotchkiss Meade and Nancy J. Faria both agreed with Dalia’s last lesson, promising themselves they’d never over-pack again.

There were a few responses that we haven’t yet come upon ourselves, but we’ll certainly take note. Christi Couron will never again book too many tours. Marvin Washington won’t allow Expedia to randomly select a hotel for him.

When Do You Need a Tour Guide?

We do, however, hope that no one will ever have to repeat the mistake Laurie Whitney Willits experienced — a mistake that wasn’t even her own. She wrote: “I will think twice and argue before I ever give my passport to the staff of a cruise ship … we were on the Concordia and they told us they would give us [our] passport back when we got off the ship. But no one was there to hand it to us when we got into our lifeboat!”

We’re glad you’re safe, Laurie. We’re glad you’re safe.

Which travel mistake will you never repeat?

– written by Jodi Thompson

mother daughterMother’s Day is just around the corner. (You did remember, right?) Before you reach for that supermarket bouquet, why not consider treating your mom to something a little more special this year — like, say, a trip?

Here at IndependentTraveler.com, we’re big fans of traveling with Mom. Jodi Thompson recently wrote about her trip with her mother to the Grand Canyon, while I’ve taken my own artsy mom gallery-hopping in cities across the country, from San Francisco to New York City.

Of course, there are a few places you might not want to take a parent, as we wrote last year. See Seven Places Not to Take Your Mother for our no-go list.

Have you traveled with your mother? Moms, where would you most want your kids to take you?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

suitcase world mapWe recently asked our readers on Facebook whether they’d ever lived in a country outside their own. Some responded with truly impressive expat resumes: “Mexico 7 yrs, Australia 1 yr, Kuwait 1 yr, U.A.E. 4 yrs, Qatar 8 months and counting…” wrote Elizabeth Wardle Walker.

“A year in Tanzania. Loved it,” said Kari Alyssa Prassack. “Waiting for the next opportunity to live abroad!”

And Kym Proudnikov weighed in with her own lengthy list: “Italy 3 years, Australia 3 years, Malta 4 years (twice), England 1 year (3 times), Canada 16 years…” Color us green with envy.

But what of the travelers who haven’t had that experience yet? Anne Rodziewicz England sums it up: “We will we will we will…”

If an extended stint overseas is high on your bucket list, read on for a few ideas on how to make it happen.

1. Teach English.
You don’t need to be able to speak a foreign language in order to travel overseas and teach English to non-native speakers. LanguageCorps.com is a good place to start, offering training and paid positions in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place

2. Volunteer.
The Peace Corps is the most famous program for international volunteers, but if you can’t swing the required two-year stint, there are plenty of shorter programs out there. TransitionsAbroad.com and Idealist.org can put you on the right path. To learn more about what to consider when choosing a volunteer opportunity, see Volunteer Vacations.

3. Study.
This is generally considered the domain of college students — but as the rest of us know, learning doesn’t stop after you get your diploma. Language learning schools are a great opportunity to have an immersive experience abroad; they often include homestays with local families. Check out LanguageCourse.net or the aforementioned TransitionsAbroad.com.

4. Work.
Work on an organic farm, join the seasonal staff at a ski resort or even take your current career overseas. There are a variety of opportunities to earn money while you travel, especially if you’re willing to be flexible. BUNAC.org offers work programs in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, while TransitionsAbroad.com offers a wider scope of programs as well as advice for finding a job overseas in your own field.

Living Abroad: 12 Tips from Travelers Who’ve Been There

– written by Sarah Schlichter

india camel desert kiss sariThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from Claudia Viani, who wrote, “Since there are no frogs in the desert, this will have to do!” Claudia has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

Runners-up that we also loved:

“Okay these tourists aren’t SO bad…!” — Madeleine Pollard Hyde on Facebook

“Oh what big lips you have said little red riding hood.” — Charlotte McMichael Mason on Facebook

“I will walk through hot deserts to just have one more kiss!” — teri

To see all of the submissions, click here.

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.

thar desert jarasthan india camel saree dunes


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, May 6, 2012, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. We’ll contact the winner and reveal our favorite caption on Monday. Please be sure to abide by our community guidelines when commenting.

The photo above depicts a young woman in a saree and her camel on the dunes of Thar Desert in Rajasthan, India. 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 Jodi Thompson

active beach vacationThere seem to be two types of vacations — the busy and the beach. As wonderful as the busy vacation is — exploring cities and towns, experiencing new dishes and new views — it is the beach vacation that is, ultimately, considered the more relaxing, the more rejuvenating. Now there’s research to back that up.

A two-year study by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health examined the engagement of 2,750 Brits aged 8 to 80 with the natural environment. The research by Katherine Ashbullby and Dr. Mathew White found that all outdoor locations make us feel calm and refreshed. But it was the coast that was most psychologically beneficial, followed by the countryside. Urban parks were found least restorative.

Even after taking into account age, distance traveled, presence of others and the activity undertaken, participants still experienced the most positive feelings seaside. The researchers are unsure whether we enjoy the beach because we’re hard-wired that way or simply because we think we should.

The World’s Best Beaches

Surely, the sunshine at the shore is a factor. We need a bit of sun exposure each day to stay healthy. Our bodies produce vitamin D from the sun’s rays. The super nutrient not only protects us from heart disease, osteoporosis, and breast, prostate and colon cancers (according to the Archives of Internal Medicine), but it also helps guard against depression and insomnia.

Another recent study from the European Centre for Environment found that lower levels of sunlight are linked to allergies and eczema. So sunlight is good. But take care: Too much can cause severe burns, dehydration and skin cancer. It can even land you in trouble with the law, as it did recently for a New Jersey mother/tanning fan who is accused of taking her young daughter in a tanning booth with her.mom tanning booth

16 Ways You Know You’re Addicted to Travel

Perhaps the most salient point we should take from the British study about the benefits of the natural environment is that exercise in the open air is what provides emotional benefits, connecting with nature. Not sitting on our duffs in the sun.

Sounds like a really good reason to make your next R&R a busy beach vacation.

– written by Jodi Thompson