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Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

In honor of this week’s holiday, today’s shot is of New Year’s fireworks sparkling above an overwater bungalow in the Maldive Islands. Happy New Year to all of our readers!

maldives fireworks overwater bungalow

Maldives Trip Reviews

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

Top Travel Trends for 2013

— written by Sarah Schlichter

2013In our last Friday Free-for-All of 2012, we’re looking ahead to the year 2013. Along with all those vows to quit smoking or lose weight, we bet you’ve got a few resolutions for the year in travel. Are you finally going to take that bucket list trip? Volunteer abroad? Visit at least two new countries? We want to hear about it.

My own 2013 resolution isn’t so much about where I travel but how. Namely, I want to quit sweating the small stuff. Stressing out over whether I’m going to make my connection in time isn’t going to make the plane fly faster — so I resolve to chill out and enjoy the ride.

Which Destinations Will You Visit in 2013?

IndependentTraveler.com News Editor Dori Saltzman says, “I resolve to take at least two three-day trips. I’d like to try to go to Pennsylvania Dutch country, the Berkshires or the Adirondacks. And I resolve to try at least one new food when I’m traveling (I’m a PICKY eater!).”

Now it’s your turn. What’s your travel resolution for 2013? Share it in the comments below!

Top Travel Trends for 2013

— written by Sarah Schlichter

pen paperWe recently challenged our readers to write a trip review about the best journey they’d taken over the previous year. We received dozens of submissions detailing our readers’ travels to places like Curacao and Cambodia, Mexico and the Mediterranean, France and the Philippines.

It was tough to pick the best review to win the grand prize, a $250 Best Western Travel Card. But in the end, we gave the nod to Heather Ranes for her review of her trip to the Emerald Isle, Ireland – The 40 Shades of Green. Here’s a snippet of her winning review:

“Killarney is the poster-child for what we, as Americans, want to see when we travel to Ireland. The city is surrounded by lush meadows and forests, its adorable Main Street is bursting with pubs and eateries, and there are lots of stone ruins to explore. Taking the advice of friends, we rented bikes (about $20 USD per person) for the day and spent most of the morning and early afternoon biking around Ross Castle and one of the lakes nearby (the bike rental shops have plenty of advice and maps available). This decision was one I consider to be a once in a lifetime experience … being on bicycles, we were able to pass the pedestrian traffic (Ross Castle is a walkable distance from downtown Killarney) and spend several hours in virtual isolation surrounded by the mystical forests of Killarney National Park. If I were a fairy, I’d want to live here.” Read the rest!

We also chose five runners-up at random to win IndependentTraveler.com duffel bags. Click on the title to read more of each review.

Aloha from Morro Bay by Tim Owens: “We paddled near some sea lions gathered in the middle of the bay, and later came close to a couple of flocks of beautiful white pelicans.”

Back-to-Back Cruises are a Gift to Yourself and Other Guests by Ralph Koerber: “A Chocolate Lovers’ Buffet featured ice carvings displayed with any type and shape chocolate desired.”

Thailand-Cambodia by Lisa Boruff: “The smell of ginger, garlic, lemongrass, flowers, incense floating in air. Orchids of all colors, roses, and spices at the flower market…”

The AMAZING Oasis of the Seas by Lisa Brommell: “We were six women traveling for a girlfriends cruise (no husbands/kids allowed)!!”

London by Marcia L Hill: “Having lived in London, I was eager to return with [my boyfriend] nearly 10 years later to see what had become of this wonderful city.”

Feeling inspired? Write about your latest trip!

— written by Sarah Schlichter

It’s a cold, dreary workday here at IndependentTraveler.com’s world headquarters, and we want to share something fun. If you like travel, technology and cinema, check out these short films, selected by Roman Coppola from more than 1,000 screenplay entries as part of a contest run by Intel and W Hotels. Sure, it’s shameless product placement for W’s accommodations and Intel’s new Ultrabook, but the mini-movies actually aren’t too bad.

Whether it’s cyber romance, Mexican wrestling or creepy wishes in Washington D.C., who doesn’t need a few more ways to waste time on a day like today?

Which is your favorite? Be sure to post your thoughts below.

What Not to Do at Your Hotel

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

Suffering at work on the day before Christmas? Rather be someplace else in the world? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

Today’s shot is of folks exploring a glacier in Patagonian Chile. But glacier hiking can be done in New Zealand, Alaska, Norway, Greenland and many other places, giving you endless travel options.

glacier hiking patagonia chile

Walking Tours and Trips

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

— written by Dori Saltzman

beachAlthough there’s still a few hours of December 21, 2012 left, we’re fairly certain the world isn’t coming to an end and thank goodness as there’s still so much more traveling to be done! In this week’s Friday Free-For-All, we want to get your travel-related fill-in answer to this sentence:

I’m grateful the world didn’t come to an end because now I’ll have the chance to _______.

To get you started here’s what a few people in the IndependentTraveler.com and CruiseCritic.com office had to say.

I’m grateful the world didn’t come to an end because now I’ll have the chance…

…to see the aurora borealis while dogsledding in the Arctic Circle. — Dori Saltzman, News Editor

…to chant “Eviiita” in front of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires. — Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor

…to reserve a table in Munich for Oktoberfest and catch an All Blacks game in New Zealand. — Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor, CruiseCritic.com

…to visit all the National Parks I’ve never been to with my son and hit my seventh continent on a cruise to Antarctica. — Erica Silverstein, Features Editor, CruiseCritic.com

So, why are you grateful the world didn’t come to an end?

12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place

–written by Dori Saltzman

canceled delayed airport departure boardIf you’ve ever wished for a crystal ball, you might be in luck — at least as far as air travel is concerned. Imagine the scenario: You’re flying home for Christmas, presents crammed carefully into your carry-on. After arriving at the airport, you learn that due to impending snow, your flight has been delayed by hours or, worse, canceled completely. Talk about a holiday headache. That’s where KnowDelay comes in.

The new service, which covers 36 of the United States’ busiest airports, uses a combination of weather tracking and airline flight schedules to predict when your flight might be impacted by impending bad weather.

It’s free to sign up, and when you create an account, you can have “Captain Delay” — the mastermind behind the site — track your flights and send you alerts, allowing you to know as far as three days in advance whether you should attempt to rebook before your flight is canceled.

Airport Delays: 6 Ways to Cope

KnowDelay will also provide you with a list of alternate flights that are available, should you choose to change your plans. Keep in mind that you may face change fees for rebooking or canceling your itinerary in advance (although airlines often waive these during severe weather events). For some travelers, paying a change fee may be cheaper in the end than having to shell out for a hotel during a weather delay or missing an important client meeting.

If you’re a last-minute traveler and you’re booking your flight within three days of your trip, you can use KnowDelay proactively to determine which flights are ideal and which ones to avoid.

Here’s a more in-depth look at how the service works:

Have you had a flight delay fiasco in the past? Share your story below.

Winter Travel Tips

— written by Ashley Kosciolek

packing listFor months I had been preparing for my eight-week trip to South America. As I bought new gear, I would toss it into my backpack without a second thought. It wasn’t until the morning of my flight that I dumped everything onto the living room floor — with less than six hours to determine what would make the final cut.

Space was at a premium because whatever I chose, I’d have to haul around on my back for two months. I’m typically a light packer, used to asking myself, “Is this necessary?” The items below answer that question with a resounding yes!

When you find yourself without electricity (Cabo Polonio, Uruguay), without street lights (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile) or simply in a situation where you want to be a considerate roommate (someone WILL be sleeping before you set out your toothbrush and pajamas), a headlamp is worth its weight in gold. Mine proved its worth by day three (of 60).

Hooded Silk Sleep Sack
My silk sleep sack, which folded up into itself and fit inside a quart-sized zip-top bag, felt luxurious … especially in hostels and budget hotels where the alternative was a sheet that was the texture of sandpaper. Bonus: In altitude, it provided me with extra warmth when the temperatures dropped.

Compression Sack
Compression sacks are perfect for consolidating less-needed items; when I was in warm-weather locales, the sack eliminated the extra space taken up by my fleece and jeans.

iPod with Customized Playlists
I created a “sleep” playlist that served me well on overnight bus rides and when sharing rooms with snorers. To build up a little anticipation for your trip, you can create a playlist with popular and current music in your destination. When you return, you’ll have an instant souvenir with music you likely just heard on the road.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

Toilet Paper
Go on, laugh. But don’t take TP for granted, even when you have to pay to use a toilet. In many parts of the world you’ll need to provide your own. (See Five Tips for Bathroom Preparedness.)

Duct Tape
I was in an area known for mosquitos and I hadn’t taken any malaria meds. Upon checking into my hotel, I noticed there was a hole in the window screen. I whipped out the duct tape, covered the holes and hoped for the best. (For other uses, see Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find at Your Drug Store.)

Or as I call it, a cover-up, beach towel, pillow, pillowcase, sarong and blanket. Oh, and yes, a scarf.

Quick-Dry Travel Towel
This was a good alternative in spots where bath towels were the size of washcloths. It also proved useful at the beach. Bonus: Sunshine really speeds up the drying process.

Biore Cleansing Facial Cloths
After an overnight bus ride or just a few days sans shower, using one of these made all the difference. I will never travel without facial cloths again.

Thankfully I never used this, but it took up permanent residence in my daypack. It was at the ready if there was an abundance of stray dogs or if I was walking alone in the dark.

Decoy Wallet
I never had to use it as such. Instead, it doubled as a change purse. Had I needed to hand it over, it was heavy enough to be believable, yet it didn’t hold enough to impact my travels.

Money Safety Tips for Travelers

Plastic Bag
Again, another multi-purpose item: a laundry bag, wet clothes bag, muddy shoe bag, beach bag, shopping bag, snack bag, trash bag … you name it.

And finally, don’t forget your sense of humor and patience.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time
4 Signs You Have a Packing Problem
Quiz: What’s Your Packing Personality?

— written by Lori Sussle

What do you do with your expired passports? If you’re anything like me, you’ve got them sitting in a box in the back of a closet somewhere, along with other fading mementoes of past trips. But one traveler we know has a more creative idea: “Since an old passport has a punched hole in the upper left hand corner, it sounds like a Christmas ornament for hanging to me!”

Old passports aren’t the only souvenirs that Chicago-based travel writer Kit Bernardi has transformed into holiday decorations. “Our Christmas tree has been travel-themed for years with funky, not-meant-to-be ‘ornaments’ that remind us of great travel memories,” Bernardi told us. Below is a snapshot of her family’s freshly decorated Fraser fir tree, which offers a glimpse of some of their favorite journeys.

christmas tree

Here’s what’s on Bernardi’s tree, in her own words: “Next to one of my retired passports there’s a springbok’s horn ‘love potion’ powder carrier with an ostrich egg shell bead strap from Namibia, a gift from the Bushman tribe we camped with; a geisha doll’s shoe from Kyoto, Japan; hanging off the branch left of the passport is a red, mini-devil’s mask from Carnival in Brazil; a dream catcher from a family snowmobile trip in Jackson Hole, WY, is next to a terra cotta ‘kitchen god’ from Santa Fe, NM; a carved bone horn for a necklace from Botswana is sort of behind it; an acacia seed pod from Zimbabwe is hooked over the branch above the passport; a paper Chinese doll from Beijing is below the passport. And that’s just a sampling.”

The Best Ways to Commemorate a Trip

How do you use your travel mementoes to decorate your home, whether over the holidays or throughout the year?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Suffering from the Monday doldrums? For everyone out there facing the beginning of another work week, here’s a little jolt of wanderlust to brighten up your morning. Each Monday, we offer a photo of a spectacular place to spark ideas for your future travels.

Today’s shot is of the famous cable car to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

rio de janeiro sugarloaf mountain cable car

Our Favorite Spots to Stay in Rio de Janeiro

Send us your best travel shot! E-mail your most beautiful or captivating travel photo to feedback@independenttraveler.com. (Please put Monday Inspiration in the subject line.)

9 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

— written by Sarah Schlichter