Home

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

spaceshiptwo Richard Branson, the brilliant billionaire owner of all things Virgin-branded, has been in the travel news quite a bit over the past few days, and it’s been an interesting mix of stories — good, bad and ugly.

Yesterday, Branson’s youngest stroke of travel company genius, Virgin Galactic, took a giant leap closer to its ultimate goal of space tourism when SpaceShipTwo ignited its rocket motor for the first time in mid-flight, bringing the spacecraft to a speed of Mach 1.2. With this supersonic test out of the way, Virgin Galactic anticipates making its first passenger space trips next year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The company will offer daily trips to sub-orbital space, including about 10 minutes of zero gravitation. The price tag? $200,000. Considering Virgin Galactic has already taken 580 reservations worth about $70 million in deposits for a company that can’t yet deliver, you’ve got to give Branson credit for his genius.

But like Robert Louis Stevenson’s brilliant scientist Dr. Jekyll, Branson has not so much a darker side as an idiotic Mr. Hyde side. Sometimes he just does or says stupid things.

For instance, Virgin America recently launched a new seat-to-seat delivery service on flights. What exactly does that mean, you ask? Well, it could be a mom sitting a few rows away from her kids, having a snack box delivered to them. Or — and here’s what USA Today believes Branson has in mind with the service — it could be a passenger sending a drink to another passenger, just as he might do in a bar if he were, say, attempting to pick someone up.

Here’s how it works. Fliers find their intended recipient on a digital seat map, select an item to be delivered, swipe a credit card and then follow up with a text message using the seat-to-seat chat function.

Um, yuck. I guess if you’re happy to hear from a stranger sitting a few rows away it’s not so bad, but what if you’re totally uninterested? It’s not like you can go anywhere.

Not Branson’s most genius moment, if you ask us.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

But it gets worse.

On Sunday, Branson criticized the British Foreign Office and other Western governments for issuing warnings about terrorism in travel advisory format.

Huh?

As reported by The Independent, Branson says that by warning people of the risk of attacks, governments are giving in to terrorists and harming those countries in the process. These warnings, he continued, should be discarded. Instead, Branson suggests that rather than warn people against visiting these places, people should be encouraged to participate in tourism and trade, in order to aid them. He cited a British Foreign Office bulletin about Egypt, an Australian government warning about Bali and a U.S. State Department alert on Kenya, which he said contributed to the decline in tourist numbers in these countries.

The Foreign Office soundly rejected Branson’s suggestion, saying it has a responsibility to make sure British citizens have the necessary information to make their own informed decisions.

While we understand the need to avoid needless monetary damage to a country, we have to side with the Foreign Office on this one. We’d rather know what our risks are before we make a decision, so as not to walk into a potentially hazardous situation.

Traveling in a Developing Country: 11 Dos and Don’ts

What do you think? Is Virgin Galactic a stroke of genius? Do you want someone you don’t know on a flight to be able to buy you a drink? Should governments issue travel alerts that include warnings about terrorism? 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.

This week’s shot, of a llama taking in the view at Machu Picchu in Peru, is sure to make you smile.

llama machu picchu peru


Read Trip Reviews About Peru

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.)

Walking Tours and Trips

– written by Dori Saltzman

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 one word and represents a famous attraction.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, April 29, 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 Dorothy Portalla, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Hermitage.” Dorothy has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

sydney opera houseEach month, we highlight one new trip review submitted by an IndependentTraveler.com reader. If your review is featured, you’ll win an IndependentTraveler.com logo item!

In this month’s featured review, reader Carmen Critchlow writes about her first trip Down Under — a cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice. “We had an informative backstage tour of the Opera House, what a fascinating history that building has,” Carmen wrote. “We took a leisurely stroll across the Harbor Bridge and enjoyed the great view.

“We were lucky to be here in March because on June 30, 2013, the Sydney Light Rail and Sydney Monorail will cease operations and will be removed to facilitate the development of the new Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct at Darling Harbor. The trains are marked ‘Farewell Sydney.’ We were glad to be able to take a ride on a piece of history before it was gone.”

Read the rest of Carmen’s review here: Fantastic Cruise to Australia/New Zealand. Carmen has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Stuttgart Library You’re in a new city and you have the near-unavoidable checklist of sights to see and things to do. Let’s review here: Museums, national parks, historic sites, art installations, so-and-so says this is the home of the world’s best wiener schnitzel — the list could seemingly go on forever.

And while many attractions are simply a case of beholding them (it’s free to stare at the Eiffel Tower but not to climb), entrance fees and related costs add up over the course of a vacation.

So what destination is available in just about every city you’ll visit, is a great porthole into local culture, offers spectacular people-watching as well as potentially free Internet access (handy in a foreign land) and is always free to visit? Libraries! I’m not just talking about Washington D.C.‘s Library of Congress (on many actual to-do lists), but any community building for book loan. You probably grew up visiting your own, from time to time, and never even considered it as a tourist attraction. Admittedly, that’s because some libraries are a tad more impressive than others — not in what they stand for, but perhaps how they stand (picture a repurposed industrial complex in Germany shaped like a Tetris block and filled with books).

Flavorwire recently put together a slideshow of 15 standout libraries from around the world — including one in Denmark featuring a giant mouth that recites poetry aloud, as well as reading nooks resembling birdcages in an eco-retreat at a Thai resort.

Editor’s Note: Slides one and nine represent private, home libraries and while awe-inspiring, are not recommended for your next sightseeing list!

What Not to Do in a New City

While attending college in Poughkeepsie, NY, I was drawn to study in the library of my friend’s alma mater, Vassar College — not for the millions of pages at hand, lying dormant in their many tomes, but for the Gothic architecture: the marble touches, hidden staircases and stained glass windows. This didn’t improve my grades as much as fuel my wandering imagination, and solidify my appreciation of libraries that appear as grand and mysterious as the knowledge within.

If the library you find doesn’t resemble a cathedral or a giraffe, don’t fret. The volumes you find abroad may not always be in your native tongue, but the communal library experience is guaranteed to be shared. Libraries are often used as a space for community announcements and events, so take advantage of tapping right into the source — find a bulletin board or events calendar (if you can read it) to get a pulse on the area.

12 Great Museums You’ve Never Heard Of

What’s the best library you ever visited at home or abroad? Share your experiences in the comments below!

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

airport sign Are you flying somewhere fun in the near future? Exotic? Far away? I’m half jealous and half not. While I’d love to be getting away, I don’t envy anyone having to deal with flying right now. In the past two days, the flying experience has gone from not so fun to downright unpleasant.

According to a Washington Post article, flights have fallen behind schedule for the second straight day at two of New York’s three major airports, a direct result of air traffic controller furloughs. By 8:45 a.m. today, delays of 30 to 45 minutes or more were already being reported in New York.

With no end to the furlough in sight (an average of about 10 percent of controllers will be furloughed on any given day), these delays are probably not going to get any better any time soon. Congress has so far made no moves to end the sequester.

And New York isn’t the only metropolitan area to be hit by delays. Yesterday, airports across the country were backed up several hours. Chicago-based United told a reporter for Bloomberg that it saw “alarming” delays in Los Angeles as well. Flights into the city were delayed an average of three hours.

Delta told Bloomberg it also expects to see air delays in Chicago and in San Francisco.

Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope

The consequences of these delays aren’t just grumpy passengers and getting somewhere late. It also means fliers need to allow more time for their transit. If before you needed an hour to an hour and a half to catch a connecting flight, now you’d better make it three to four hours. If you have to be in your destination by noon, you might want to consider flying in the day before.

The federal government is so aware of the delays that the U.S. Transportation Department is considering suspending enforcement of a regulation that prevents lengthy tarmac delays, the Bloomberg article reports. The rule requires that airlines give passengers a chance to leave a plane if it has been sitting on the tarmac for more than three hours. Airlines can also be fined for the delays. Since 2009, when the tarmac delay regulation was passed, airlines have been canceling flights whenever it looks like a three-hour delay is imminent. With sequester cuts in place and delays of three hours or more entirely possible, that could mean a lot of canceled flights if enforcement of the law isn’t waived.

But it’s not all bad news for fliers. A controversial rule that would have allowed passengers to begin carrying small knives on planes again has been put on hold while the TSA considers additional input. Public opinion has been widely opposed to the measure, as have flight attendants and airlines.

Have you flown in the past two days? Are you flying soon? What are you dreading most? Weigh in below.

What Not to Do at the Airport

– 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.

This week’s shot is of the dramatic cliff of Trolltunga, looking out over Norway‘s Ringedalsvatnet Lake.

trolltunga norway hike lake ringedalsvatnet


Read Trip Reviews About Norway

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 Best Places to See from the Water

– 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 two words and represents a famous natural landmark.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, April 22, 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 Wynne, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Mount Kilimanjaro.” Wynne has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

Newfoundland may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think about traveling somewhere for its music. Instead, you might think Ireland for its Celtic sounds or New Orleans for great jazz; Nashville is world-famous for country music, while Salzburg and Vienna resonate with loves of classical.

But for me the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland ranks near the top of my list of for destinations I want to visit for their rich musical heritage. The city and island are steeped in maritime traditions including a love of rollicking sea shanties influenced by the Irish, English and Scottish sailors who alit on its shores centuries ago.

Want a taste of what Newfoundland has been known to serve up, musically speaking? Check out this clip from a Newfoundland & Labrador Folk Festival.



Other places high on my list of must-visit musical destinations include Ireland and Cape Breton.

I have yet to make it to Newfoundland or Cape Breton, but I’ve been to Ireland four times. One of my favorite trips included two nights in the small town of Doolin, where impromptu seisiúns popped up nightly.

Have you ever traveled somewhere just because of its musical traditions or history? Which cities call to you because an artist or music movement was born there?

Turn Your Favorite Hobby into a Trip

– written by Dori Saltzman

couple with tablet If you’re reading this, you’re clearly wired. Perhaps you limit yourself to perusing travel Web sites’ blogs, but if you’re like most of us, you likely throw some e-mail and social media into the mix, too. Whether it’s sharing photos from your current travels on Facebook or tweeting about a harrowing airport experience, we’re curious how long you can go without staying connected.

In a recent Facebook poll, we asked this: What’s the longest you can go when traveling without checking your e-mail/Facebook/Twitter/social media outlet of choice?

Given that the vehicle for the poll is Facebook, it’s amusing that the general consensus among those who commented is that they can forego online communication when a vacation is involved. (It’s also worth noting that several respondents mentioned cruises, where it can be difficult — and particularly expensive — to get Internet or cell phone service.)

“Social media, likely not a problem,” says Wynne Gavin. “E-mail? Now THAT would be hard, but since that’s the way I’d keep in touch and let people know I was ok, it’s moot.”

Steven Long says he sticks it out through his whole trip: “… through the entire cruise! I do not need Facebook to live!”

Lavida Rei takes it a step further, claiming she could go “forever” without it if she really wanted to.

What’s your take? How do you keep in touch while traveling? Weigh in below.

How to Escape While Staying Connected

– written by Ashley Kosciolek