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

hiker binoculars


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, August 19, 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

beach signI spent last week on vacation with my family in a house at the New Jersey shore. The day I left the office, one of my coworkers said, “Have a nice trip!” as I walked out the door. I thanked her, but inwardly I felt a little jolt — I didn’t actually feel like I was taking a trip at all. A vacation, yes. A trip, no. And then I wondered: What’s the difference?

For me, taking a trip means traveling, exploring, getting lost, stretching myself out of my comfort zone. But the goal of a vacation is the exact opposite: total relaxation. My week at the shore is something I do every year with the same people in the same spot, a place as familiar to me as my own home town. I leave the passport and guidebooks at home, packing nothing more than tank tops, shorts, flip-flops and a towering stack of novels.

The World’s Best Beaches

When I travel, I’m in exploration mode, and I love to take in something new every day — a neighborhood, a cafe, a museum or historic site. When I vacation, I happily sink into a comfortable and beloved routine: a morning bike ride, an afternoon at the beach, an evening dinner with my family on the balcony.

As an avid traveler, I’d never consider spending all my days off lazing on the sand. There’s too much world out there to discover! But I’d never give up that precious week of true vacation either. The ultra-relaxation I find there recharges my batteries in a way nothing else does — so I can keep on exploring.

12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place

Do you see a difference between vacationing and traveling? Do you try to incorporate both into your life?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

postcardsWe travelers like to brag. Whether we’re at the beach for a day or backpacking through Europe for a month, there’s no better way to say “thinking of you” (or, more specifically, “thinking of you while I’m being awesome on my awesome trip”) than a postcard. But with the rise in smartphone usage and the popularity of social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, postcards are a dying medium.

According to Web site Tnooz, only 16 percent of 2,000 adults in a recent survey said that they send postcards while traveling. Many cited slow mailing times and the added headache of finding stamps and mailboxes as reasons why they opt for other forms of communication instead. It seems that phone calls, texts, Facebook posts and mass e-mails have increasingly pushed postcards in the direction of the dinosaur.

However, companies like Postcardly offer ways to combine the two by using technology to send printed postcards as easily as sending an e-mail. Although it’s a cute idea, some just don’t find it as appealing as having a Facebook album that all 500 of your friends can see and “like.”

16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

Do you stay in touch with folks back home while globetrotting? Do you prefer sending and/or receiving hard copies, or are you more partial to the virtual version? Be sure to vote in our poll, and leave your comments below.



– written by Ashley Kosciolek

us airways plane tailAs soon as the 24-hour check-in window opened, I pounced on seat 10A, a $37 exit row upgrade with enough legroom to do calisthenics in.

There are 93 Airbus A319-100′s in the US Airways fleet, according to IndependentTraveler.com’s sister company Seat Guru. To make room for the left and right exits in row nine, the window seats (9A and F) were never slotted in. For the occupants of 10A and F, that bit of safety-inspired good fortune meant that our 2.5-hour flight from Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, to Philadelphia offered 62 inches of seat pitch (the distance from one point on a seat to the same point on the seat in front or behind). That’s the kind of space you could comfortably tie your shoe in without fear of head injury — the kind of space you could disappear in. You can’t disappear in first class, where the pitch is a meager 38 inches.

How to Get the Best Airplane Seat

An hour in, I gifted my spot to my sleepy travel companion. She vanished, and reappeared looking refreshed when we touched down.

The one drawback is that the tray is in the armrest — so you can’t move the armrest up and expand the width by a centimeter, no small measure in a world defined by tiny bags of pretzels, coffin-sized bathrooms and implied demilitarized zones between strangers.

Certainly no flier is pleased with the so-called deconstruction of airfares, those added fees for a checked bag or a smile from the flight attendant. But this was $37 — waived for certain frequent flier achievers — well spent.

– written by Dan Askin

donkey egyptThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from
pupnpony, who wrote, “Do you REAAAALLLLY want to slap a pack on me?” Pupnpony has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

Runners-up that we also loved:

“You’re gonna pin the tail on WHICH donkey?” — Nancy James

“This is going to be fun! We can stay up late, swapping manly stories and in the morning, I’m making waffles!” — Tyler Weir

“Hey, does my nose look big to you?” — James Corey

To see all of the submissions, click here.

This week’s photo of a donkey near Aswan, Egypt, was snapped by reader TS Buchanan. 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 silly travel pic and you could win an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

donkey egypt


To enter, drop your wittiest one-liner (or two-liner, or three-liner…) in the comments by Sunday night, August 12, 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.

Today’s photo was snapped by IndependentTraveler.com reader TS Buchanan on a farm near Aswan, Egypt. This reader 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

nagasaki peace memorialAugust 9 is Nagasaki Day, a day set aside to memorialize the 70,000 killed when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city in 1945, prompting Japan’s World War II surrender. U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos was in the city to take part in a peace memorial. Just three days earlier Roos and Harry Truman’s grandson attended a similar ceremony marking Hiroshima’s dark day.

When we travel, we’re often focused on visiting destinations that are festive and fun, that bring us great joy. But Nagasaki Day reminded us that many destinations are focused on more painful history. We visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C., the Waterloo Battlefields, the Normandy American Cemetery and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

Some of these destinations not only call attention to a disturbing past, but also celebrate our ability to rise above it. Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chosen, according to the UNESCO Web site, because the buildings “bear witness to its somber history” and “symbolize the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom and of democracy over oppression.”

5 Simple Ways to Make the Most of Your Trip

We visit such sites to learn from history, much of which we must be certain to never repeat. We honor those who have fallen. We feel connected to humanity — at its best and worst. Some of it is just so uncomfortable, though. It evokes the phrase “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Through the lump in our throat that these places may form, we find strength and hope.

There are elements of so-called “dark tourism” in mainstream travel as well, though we often forget that fact. Who winces at the pain inflicted within the crumbling walls of the Coliseum or the majestic Tower of London? Do we consider the loss of life required to build the Great Wall or the pyramids when we snap photos of ourselves smiling in front of them?

And is there a point at which we should we draw a line? Do we visit Chernobyl, Saint-Laurent of “Papillion” fame and its neighbor, Devil’s Island? Even seemingly innocuous sites such as Salem, Massachusetts, have a murky history.

Religious Tours and Spiritual Travel

We may visit macabre sites to pay homage to courage and perseverance. Perhaps sometimes it is more exploitative — a titillating, glad-it-wasn’t-me experience. Either way, we know we’re visiting someplace important, someplace where events changed the course of history. And, if we’re lucky, we walk away a little more human for the experience.

Do you make pilgrimages to sites with dark or painful histories? And are you comforted or afflicted by your trip?

– written by Jodi Thompson

bathroom signSure, clearing customs can be a nuisance when all you really want is a Cuban cigar, some flower bulbs or maybe an oversized wheel of cheese. But we’re always dumbfounded and, sometimes, amused by those who attempt to cross international borders with animals, drugs and other, more severe contraband hidden in everything from beer cans to unmentionables.

Customs and Duty-Free Guide

Read on for a list of some of the most bizarre customs kerfuffles we’ve ever come across.

Cocaine cast: According to AOL Travel one man, traveling from Chile to Spain, was busted at customs for wearing a cast made from cocaine. The kicker? His leg was actually fractured. It’s unclear whether he injured himself on purpose to make the cast ruse more plausible. In his possession, he also had several beer cans filled with the drug.

“Fresh fruit”: Another compilation, provided by Neatorama, lists the attempted smuggling of various reptiles and amphibians — including 3,492 pig-nosed turtles, which sources say would likely have been used for soup and sex-enhancing drugs. Um, ew.

A dead guy: One woman attempted to take her husband from England to Germany, where he lived. The problem? He was deceased. We don’t mean to be insensitive, but … really?! Women’s Day says the woman and her daughter put the man’s corpse in a wheelchair and claimed he was sleeping. Officials became suspicious when they couldn’t find a pulse, and an inspection of his body determined he had died about 12 hours prior.

What Not to Do at the Airport

Bra full of snakes: Ladies, if you ever have the urge to place 75 live snakes into your bra, be sure not to show your discomfort. The U.K.’s Metro reports that a woman traveling to Stockholm tipped off customs officials when she was seen scratching her chest.

Girdle full of monkeys: An Examiner.com article tells the story of a man traveling from Peru to Mexico with an, ahem, “suspicious bulge.” Said bulge turned out to consist of a number of endangered Titi monkeys.

What’s the craziest smuggling story you’ve ever heard of?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

bathroom sign
Ladies, when you’ve got to go, well… you’ve got to go. But when you’re traveling, it’s not always a fun experience. Foreign bathrooms are often dirty, smelly and sometimes require a bit more muscle than usual. But a little bit of preparedness can go a long way in making the trip to the far-off loo a little more tenable.

Here are five things you’ll need in order to be prepared to visit the bathroom in any destination.

Toilet paper
Running into a stall and discovering too late that the toilet paper dispenser is empty can happen anywhere, but in many overseas bathrooms you won’t even find a dispenser. Make sure you’ve always got a pocket pack of travel toilet paper or facial tissues with you wherever you go. Your best bet is to keep a packet in your pocketbook or backpack, your jacket pocket, your pants pockets and any other place you can think of.

Food Safety: How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling

Hand sanitizer
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to a bathroom overseas where there was no soap, and sometimes not even water, to wash my hands. And whether I managed to get by without touching door knobs and flush handles didn’t matter. First of all, I always like to wash my hands, and second, if the bathroom is disgusting I’m going to feel dirty after using it. A little hand sanitizer goes a long way to relieving my discomfort. I always keep a bottle in any bag I’m carrying with me. I know sanitizer doesn’t trump soap if it’s available, but when there’s nothing else, sanitizer can save the day

Peppermint oil
I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I think we can all agree that restrooms can get pretty smelly – to put it mildly. And roadside bathrooms are among the worst. I vividly recall stopping at a room of toilets (it really didn’t deserve to be called a bathroom) alongside a highway in Romania. The smell was so bad I couldn’t stay long enough to… I think you get the picture. Nowadays, I try to carry a small bottle of peppermint oil with me. A little dab rubbed on the skin under my nose manages to mask the worst odors at least long enough for me to do what needs to be done.

Four Common Travel Disasters and How to Prevent Them

Steady balance and strong thighs
I apologize but I’m about to get a little more personal for these next preparedness tips. I don’t think I know a single woman who hasn’t at some point had to squat over a toilet she didn’t want to sit on. And unless you can pee really, really fast, your thigh muscles are going to get a workout. It’s even worse when you don’t have a seat. Most world travelers have done the Turkish toilet at least once – you know the one where there is simply a hole in the ground and two elevated foot prints to plant your feet on? That doesn’t just take strong thigh muscles; that takes balance too. If you know you’re going to be traveling somewhere these two scenarios might play out, I suggest starting a regimen of squats and balance exercises right now.

Go Girls, Whizzys and P-Mates
This blog post is primarily for the ladies because let’s face it, it’s much easier to find a less disgusting place to pee when you can do it standing up. For the more adventurous ladies among us, you too, can join the men’s club. There are numerous products out there that claim to give women the ability to pee while standing. They come in plastic and paper varieties, vary in funnel shape and in my experience are messy to use. But maybe I did something wrong. The only way to find out is to test one out yourself.

– written by Dori Saltzman

little boyThanks to everyone who participated in last Friday’s photo caption contest. We received some great submissions, but our favorite was from Evelyn Hannon, who wrote, “I don’t deserve this time out…” Evelyn has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug.

Runners-up that we also loved:

“uhhhh I don’t do ladders yet. Is someone gonna get me down from here?” — Lauralee

“I wonder why momma’s mad at me.” — George Monta

“What do I know about history? I’m only two and a half!” — John B

To see all of the submissions, click here.

This week’s photo was snapped by IndependentTraveler.com reader Rebecca McCormick, who writes, “For the life of me, I can’t remember exactly where this photo was taken, except that it was at a historic boyhood home site run by the National Park Service. This child was obviously not interested in the details. I think he just wanted to go eat.”

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