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Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it? (For another example, check out last week’s puzzle.)

This week’s puzzle is two words (one per line) and represents a famous landmark.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, March 18, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Kerry Hansen, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Chichen Itza.” Kerry has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

most welcoming countriesMany years ago, on a three-week tour of Ireland, a friend and I found ourselves on the streets of Dingle in the rain, waiting for our small tour bus to come pick us up. It was cold, and we huddled together beneath one small umbrella trying to stay warm. As we stood there shivering, the colorful front door of one of the small houses up the street swung open, and an older woman stepped out and waved to us.

“Come in, come in,” she yelled.

My friend and I looked at the woman, looked at each other and then jogged up the street and into a small, but warm living room. For the next 30 minutes, the woman plied us with hot tea and biscuits, asked us questions and showed us pictures of her family. When it was time to meet our tour bus, she gave us each a friendly hug goodbye.

Fifteen years later I sadly do not remember her name, but her kindness and friendliness toward us, strangers in her town, will never fade from my memory. And she is not the only truly friendly soul I’ve met on my travels in Ireland. There was the father in Northern Ireland with his two young children who picked my sister and me up off the side of the road and rushed us to the ferry port so we wouldn’t miss our boat, and the bus driver in Dublin who drove us to our hostel even though he was on his break and then refused to take money from us.

Random Acts of Travel Kindness

Because of these experiences, and the overall atmosphere of its inhabitants towards visitors, Ireland remains, in my opinion, the friendliest of all the 30-some countries I’ve visited. According to a recent report from the World Economic Forum, I am not alone in finding Ireland to be a super-friendly tourist destination.

In the report, “Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013,” 140 countries are ranked according to the attractiveness and competitiveness of their travel and tourism industries. One of the criteria included in the rankings is the attitude of the country’s citizens towards foreign visitors. Ireland ranked ninth.

Iceland leads the pack of friendliest countries, followed by New Zealand, Morocco, Macedonia, Austria, Senegal, Portugal, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Rounding off the top 10 is Burkina Faso.

Honestly, I was a bit surprised to see a few of those countries on the list, and also saddened that Australia (another of my top five friendliest countries) was left off (it ranked 27th overall). Another surprise (or maybe it’s not??) — the United States came in fairly low, placing 102 out of 140.

At the other end of the spectrum, Bolivia ranks as the most unwelcoming country for visitors, followed by Venezuela, Russia, Kuwait, Latvia, Iran, Pakistan, the Slovak Republic, Bulgaria and Mongolia.

When Travelers Get a Rude Awakening

Belgium, which I found to be the least friendly of all countries I’ve been to, actually ranked in the top 20 most welcoming countries, coming in at number 19.

What do you think of the results? Which of the countries you’ve visited have been the most friendly or least welcoming?

–written by Dori Saltzman

santo domingo dominican republicBefore my recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I was warned by a number of colleagues, relatives and friends (including one who’s Dominican) that I should be careful. Not just “don’t drink the water” careful, but “wear no jewelry, don’t make eye contact and don’t even think about going outside at night” careful. The good news: I survived my trip safe and sound. But with so many dire warnings, I didn’t stop to consider some of the more practical (and less dangerous) issues I might encounter.

Rental Car Runaround
Scenario: Even though I’d reserved a rental car ahead of time for pickup at the airport, it still took an hour for the paperwork to go through — and I was the only customer.

Lesson: Because of differences in languages and processing methods, you should always leave extra time for things like this, especially in places with a slower pace of life.

Scenario: After the first time I stopped to refuel, the car wouldn’t start. I called the rental agency, who told me that the vehicle’s keyless entry safety feature was prohibiting the engine from turning over. I clicked a few buttons, and the car started right up.

Lesson: Ask if there’s anything specific you should know about the car before you leave the rental agency. Ask also for a phone number where you can reach someone if you have problems (and keep a phrasebook handy in case the person on the other end doesn’t speak your language).

The First 10 Minutes of Your Car Rental

Scenario: On the day I flew home, I tried to return the rental car an hour earlier than scheduled — but nobody was at the desk. I waited 20 minutes before calling the customer service number again. I was told that because I was an hour early, nobody would be there to take the key. I was instructed to hide it behind the computer at the rental counter.

Lesson: In other countries, not all businesses are open during what we would consider “normal” operating hours. This is especially true in locations that don’t see many tourists. Treat rental car reservations like doctor’s appointments: show up only at the times you specify for rental and return.

GPS Guffaw
Scenario: While driving from the airport to my hotel, the GPS in my rental car kept screaming at me to “turn right” when no right turns were present, leaving me lost in Santo Domingo for two hours. I called my hotel’s front desk, and they were able to get me on the right path.

Lesson: Don’t rely entirely on technology when traveling. If possible, find and print directions to take with you in case your cell phone or GPS gets lost, breaks or dies along the way. And carry the phone number of someone at your destination in case you find yourself in a pinch.

3 C’s: Credit Cards, Currency and Cell Phones
Scenario: My credit card was denied when I tried to purchase snacks. I paid with cash and promptly called the company to discuss the problem. (I always call to alert my bank and my credit card company before traveling to avoid having my cards blocked when I need them most.) I was told that some card companies won’t allow transactions in certain locations if they’re considered “high-risk.”

Lesson: Sure, you know to tell your card company that you’ll be globetrotting, but it’s also a good idea to bone up on its policies regarding the specific places you’re visiting. Keep the company’s phone number handy and carry cash as a backup.

The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas

Scenario: On my last day, I made a wrong turn on the way to the airport. (Thanks again, GPS.) I found myself at a pesos-only tollbooth (having purposefully gotten rid of my remaining pesos immediately prior) and conjured up my high-school Spanish to ask if they’d accept U.S. dollars. When two heavily armed police came out of the booth, I took that as a firm “no.” But one officer did offer me 500 pesos — enough for the toll — in exchange for a $20 bill. He made a $10 profit on the deal, but you don’t refuse a man with a machine gun when he stands in the way of your flight back to civilization.

Lesson: Always carry enough local currency to get you through end of your trip. Airports usually offer exchange services, so don’t worry about having too much leftover cash.

Scenario: Although I added international texting and data coverage to my cell phone plan before embarking on this adventure, I turned down the international calling plan since I didn’t think I’d use it. But with all my hapless calls to the hotel, car rental agency and credit card company, I used quite a few minutes. At $2.95 a pop, I’m now facing a pretty nasty bill.

Lesson: Always, always say yes to a calling plan. If you run into trouble, phone calls are almost always your best means of finding help. Keep in mind, too, that if you’re traveling abroad, your phone will be roaming the second it connects to a network, even if you don’t make any calls. Because service can be spotty in some locations, ask your carrier about availability and consider purchasing a prepaid phone when you arrive at your destination.

International Cell Phone Guide

–written by Ashley Kosciolek

car keys saleA cocktail, a sandwich, a set of headphones, maybe some Wi-Fi … most in-flight purchases aren’t exactly weighty or expensive decisions. But if China’s Spring Airlines has its way, travelers could be pondering a much larger purchase on an upcoming flight: a new car.

Bloomberg reports that Spring Airlines could begin selling automobiles on flights next month, at prices starting around $16,000. The Shanghai-based discount airline flies largely within China, with some international service to Japan. The car sales would be introduced on flights from Shanghai.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sold on the concept. Sure, sitting on a plane gives you plenty of time to pore over the various features of one car or another. But 35,000 feet isn’t exactly a prime spot for a test drive. And I can’t help but feel badly for the flight attendants, whom Bloomberg notes “will be trained on the car details.” They probably didn’t know when they signed up to hand out drinks and keep the cabin safe that they’d also end up shilling cars.

So what’s next for in-flight commerce? Perhaps flight attendants should become certified realtors and sell us our next house as well.

9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet

– 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 we’re thinking warm, tropical thoughts with this photo of swimmers at Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica.

dunns river falls jamaica waterfall


Jamaica Trip Reviews by Real Travelers

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.)

Slideshow: Which Caribbean Island Is Right for You?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Here’s something fun to kick off your weekend. It’s a travel-themed picture puzzle. You just have to tie the photos together to make words. For example, a photo of an eye, combined with a photo of a full glass of water would be eye + full = Eiffel. Get it? (For another example, check out last week’s puzzle.)

This week’s puzzle is three words (one per line) and represents a famous landmark.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, March 11, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday morning we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Jerry Carre, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Empire State Building.” He has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman and Sarah Schlichter

It’s the YouTube craze that’s swept the globe — and now it’s hit the skies. On a recent Frontier Airlines flight, an ultimate Frisbee team from Colorado College launched its own version of the Harlem Shake in the aisle of the plane, complete with someone rocking out in a banana costume. (Now how do you fit that into a carry-on?)

Though it seemed like it was all in good fun, the Federal Aviation Administration isn’t convinced. According to ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the agency is looking into the incident to make sure the students weren’t in violation of any safety regulations (such as interfering with flight attendants or standing during take-off/landing). The students claim they cleared their dance with the flight attendants first and waited until the seatbelt sign was off. A Frontier spokesperson says the plane’s safety was never in jeopardy.

Check out the video below for the full story:


Would you feel nervous if the Harlem Shake hit your next flight — or be grateful for a little in-air entertainment?

Finnair Flight Attendants Go Bollywood

Dancing Flight Attendants Kick Up Controversy

– written by Sarah Schlichter

movie clapboardThere has been no shortage of screenplay-worthy travel stories in the past few weeks. Dennis Rodman’s holiday in Pyonyang with the reclusive dictator, Kim Jung-un? Lifetime should be on it. The Carnival Triumph cruise fire? Bet on it being retold in a three-part epic on ABC Family. The sequester’s impact on air travel? That one’s still under discussion, but there’s no doubt the right network will make it work. Here are three would-be plots.

The Real Story: Dennis Rodman’s diplomatic journey to N. Korea

The TV Movie Version, “Mr. Worm Goes to Pyongyang”: An American basketball star (retired), hair dye aficionado, pro wrestler and self-proclaimed “bad boy” travels to North Korea to secure a peace treaty with the country’s ruthless supreme leader, Kim. Like his piercings and tattoos, the Worm’s methods are unconventional — and pooh-poohed by stiff-collared American foreign service elites. But with the help of the Harlem Globetrotters’ feather-on-your-funny-bone brand of non-verbal hijinks, coupled with all-you-can-drink of apple soju-tinis, he succeeds in melting the dictator’s heart. (Kim’s favorite gag: Player pretends he’s pregnant with a basketball.) Choking back guffaws and sobs, the glorious ruler reveals that he feels ostracized by the West; all the tiny, tracksuit-wearing tyrant really wants is to hear the smooth baritone of the American supreme leader. Worm and Kim embrace during a moment filmed by a cell phone, and the video goes viral. Having proven the cynics back home wrong, the Worm earns the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service and, due to a clerical error, the Distinguished Honor Award from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The Real Story: The ill-fated cruise on Carnival Triumph in early February

The TV Movie Version, “Triumph Over Adversity”: The vacation of a lifetime, a four-night voyage on a 14-year-old Carnival ship, becomes a cruel Darwinian experiment when an engine room fire leaves the ship without power in the Gulf of Mexico. Raw sewage sloshes around the decks, the now-infamous red bags for toxic waste are dispensed and essential supplies quickly dwindle. Despite food and medicine shortages and a growing intolerance toward poop jokes, a perky cruise director tries to keep the mood upbeat. But after only 24 hours adrift, hungry passengers have formed into splinter groups, with a maniacal Texan leading a powerful sect of pseudo-religious cannibals. Their first victim: the chipper cruise director. Screaming headlines (procured from a handful of surviving cruisers who managed to salvage cell phone batteries) and a CNN helicopter that surveys the scene from a safe distance tell the story to the world. Even as tug boats manage to reach the ship and slowly pull it to Mobile, the carnage continues.

When it seems that all hope is lost, President Obama reaches for the red phone and dials. A voice can be heard over the receiver: “I was wondering when you’d call.”

“We need your help, Dennis Rodman,” the president says.

The Real Story: Sequestration’s impact on the travel industry (most notably, airports)

The TV Movie Version, “Sequestration, the Movie”: With the U.S. government unable to agree on some sort of budget by some sort of date, $85 billion in spending cuts are initiated. Services the American public depends on may be ravaged. Most importantly, lines at airports are getting dangerously long. “Get there 90 minutes before departure” becomes “get there three months early and rent a hibernation pod, a new for-fee option introduced by the airlines.” (First-class hibernation pod passengers get to board in Zone 1 in the unlikely event their planes take off.) It gets worse. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, played by Kathy Bates, announces that the TSA is sending out furlough notices to its workers. As TSA staff numbers dwindle, fewer and fewer bags make it onto planes and fliers grow increasingly confused by the lack of ineptitude, condescension and rude interactions. Republicans and Democrats refuse to budge on spending, despite a growing number of airport horror scenes captured on cell phones and streamed out on CNN. Travelers angrily refuse overtures from train companies, preferring to form angry mobs at airports instead. Is the president out of options? Not yet. Dennis Rodman, one of the most decorated non-military heroes in U.S. history, is called in to mediate.

The Most Awkward Moments in Travel

The World’s Weirdest Museums

– written by Dan Askin

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

airplane seatWould being able to eliminate jet lag make your next long-haul flight more bearable? What about knowing your food tray wouldn’t be jammed into your sternum if the person sitting in front of you decided to recline?

Solutions to both of these air travel problems have recently been proposed, and we at IndependentTraveler.com couldn’t be more excited.

Jet lag is an especially tiresome problem (pun intended) for travelers. But now you can just lather up those photons and erase your jet lag woes, Delta Air Lines promises. And though the “Photon Shower” conjures up futuristic images of a world with hovercrafts and Mars vacations, the device is real — almost.

Designed by a New York firm for Delta, the “Photon Shower” is a vertical shower-stall-style chamber that provides light therapy to users. According to an AdAge blog post, here’s how it works: users input their travel information, then step in and bask in a light sequence that recreates the effects of sunlight, which scientists say combats jet lag and provides a pick-me-up to tired travelers.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Though it was displayed at the latest TED conference in California, the Shower has not yet been rolled out to airports — and Delta is offering no timeline on when it might be available.

A second technology development, equally as exciting, is sadly even farther away from reality. The result of a global student design competition sponsored by the James Dyson Foundation, the AirGo economy seat is something we’d really like to see installed on airplanes. (ABC News agrees.)

The seat, designed by Malaysian engineering student Alireza Yaghoubi, aims to give fliers access to all their limited seat space, even when the person in front of them reclines. To accomplish this, the tray table and TV screen are housed above the seats, so that when a seat is pushed back it does not force the tray table or TV back as well. In Yaghoubi’s design, the two are attached to an individual bulkhead, which also provides guaranteed baggage storage space for each individual seat (another problem many fliers face!).

Fighting Jet Lag: Tips from Our Readers

Yaghoubi told ABC News he got the idea for the seats after several uncomfortable eight-hour flights. On a typical flight, he said, the person in front of him reclined his or her seat, occupying one-third of the space he had paid for.

There’s just one problem with the design. It takes up 16 percent more floor space than the seats most airlines have now. But perhaps fliers would be willing to pay a little extra for the security of knowing they’d actually get to use all the space they paid for.

Given a choice, which of the two technological advancements would you like to see become reality first? Let us know below.

– written by Dori Saltzman

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 we’re getting in the mood for spring with a view of Mount Fuji, Japan, with apricot blossoms in the foreground.

mt fuji japan apricot blossoms spring flowers


Our 6 Favorite Tokyo Hotels

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 10 Stunning Spring Destinations

– written by Sarah Schlichter