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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 four words and represents a famous landmark.

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


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

hotel front deskWhen booking a special offer at a hotel, perhaps you’re looking for added value — an extra night, free breakfast or a bonus amenity. Maybe it’s a special occasion warranting rose petals and restaurant reservations, and you splurge for the upgrade. But maybe the offer has very little to do with value, convenience or even relevance to your life. If you happen to be a recent divorc√© named David with a book fetish, these packages just might be for you … or someone … somewhere (we’re not too sure).

Are You Named David? You Win!
Forget about the fine print — this deal is pretty straightforward. Anyone whose name does not begin with a “D” and end in “avid” need not apply. At the Hotel David in Florence (it’s all starting to make sense), you can save five percent on your stay if you share your namesake with the hotel. The promotion code at booking is — you guessed it — DAVID. The hotel claims to verify ID at check-in, so no David doubling!

“You Want What?” Bizarre Requests from Hotel Guests

Because All You Need to Be Taken Seriously Is a Blow Dryer
At Swissotel Lima, a pretty specific package is offered entitled Traveling Business Woman Room. In a time of tech-dependent, travel-savvy CEO’s and businesswomen, you might be justified in assuming that special amenities for this package would include high-speed Internet access, availability of conferencing equipment, maybe even a dry-cleaning service. But who needs high-falutin’ technology when you have hair? According to the description of package inclusions, all a modern-age woman needs to succeed is soft pillows, “exclusive” bathroom amenities and a blowout. Ace that next big meeting with softness and style!

Just Finished Paying Off Your Divorce Lawyer? Celebrate with a Vacation!
Wedged somewhere between Romantic Experience and Honeymoon Package, you can find a gem of a getaway called Divorced: Renewal and Freedom at Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, an all-inclusive Puerto Vallarta resort in Mexico. Their prescription for the death of a marriage includes a blend of sun, sand, spa treatments and plenty of cocktails. Whether you left him, she left you or you mutually needed a solo trip south of the border, self-renewing rituals and a night on the town are on the menu.

16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

Who Knew Naughty Librarians Were So … Naughty?
When you spend an intimate stay at the Library Hotel in New York City, there’s no need to cast literary aspirations aside with your clothes. The hotel’s special offers currently feature a tame Alice in Wonderland package with afternoon tea, a jazzier Great Gatsby package including a night of roaring 20′s, and a package based on a very widely read ancient text: the Kama Sutra. Book the Erotica package and along with your guide to love you will receive an adults-only kit including body dust, massage oil, bubble bath and a feather tickler. Happy reading!

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

My greatest weakness as a travel professional? I can’t sleep on planes.

If you’re like me, then you know the feeling of dread that washes over you when you realize that nothing stands between you and an incredible trip to Europe (Asia, South America, etc.) but 12 hours of red-eye misery, cramped in coach class, a hard, unyielding armrest digging into your hips, head banging against the windowshade, legs going numb as you try to contort yourself in the one miracle position that will bring on sleep. And you almost don’t go.

But if you love travel as much as I do, you suck it up and go. In a desperate attempt to make long-haul flights more bearable and find a miracle cure for the sleepless flight, I took four travel pillows with me on a recent trip from San Francisco to Germany and the Netherlands. I chose products that seemed unusual or intriguing. Here’s how they ranked. (Spoiler alert: I barely slept a wink.)

Kuhi Comfort Travel Pillow
kuhi comfort travel pillowThe Pillow: The Kuhi Comfort Travel Pillow is not your standard-shaped neck pillow. It’s made of two soft cylindrical balls, attached by a strap. The selling point is that you can use it multiple ways. Turn it one way and the curved part is by your neck; flip it around and the flat part is against you. Straighten the strap and you can tuck one end over your shoulder and cuddle the other, put it behind you for back support and place it in your lap to rest a book.

The Flight: I was pretty excited about this one — the design is original and the materials feel high-end. To my disappointment, the fit is just off. The strap is too short and the balls are (ahem) too big. When the pillow was around my neck, I felt surrounded by material. Trying alternate positions didn’t work — the pillow is too bulky for good back support and too short to sling across your body. The final blow: Because the pillow isn’t inflatable, you have to carry it around in its little stuff sack, which attaches nicely to the handle of your rollaboard but dangles awkwardly if you’re carrying a backpack or other bag.

Final Verdict: I wanted to love it, but I just couldn’t make it work.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Cabeau Evolution Pillow
cabeau evolution pillowThe Pillow: The Evolution Pillow is an enhanced version of the standard, plush (non-inflatable) neck pillow. It’s made of memory foam and has raised side supports to cradle your neck — or you can wear the pillow backwards to support your chin. It even has a pocket for your MP3 player. It comes with a travel case and memory-foam earplugs.

The Flight: I was the least excited about the Evolution Pillow, but it was actually really comfortable. I used this one while dozing on an early-morning flight, and I did appreciate the extra head support, the soft material and the absence of the inflatable-pillow plastic smell. However, I would like to see a step-by-step video of how the designers scrunched the pillow down to a quarter of its size and fit it into the stuff sack. I couldn’t even get the entire pillow into the bag, so I couldn’t use the Velcro straps to attach it and it just dangled awkwardly, threatening to fall out.

Final Verdict: Until someone can show me how to make this pillow travel-friendly, I’m sticking with my blow-up model. (Editor’s Note: Cabeau recently offered us the following instructions for packing the pillow.)

EZ Sleep Travel Pillow
ez sleep travel pillowThe Pillow: Imagine a miniature version of an inflatable pool mat that you could stand up like a wall between airplane seats, attached by a Velcro strap around the arm rest. What you see in your mind is the EZ Sleep Travel Pillow. The concept is to create a support structure for you to lean against as you catch some in-flight Z’s, so your body isn’t flopping about like a rag doll.

The Flight: It hit me in the airport — if I have the aisle seat and someone else has the window, I may be too embarrassed to set this inflatable wall up. It’s big and it encroaches into shared territory. Luckily for me, I had two seats to myself. The pillow does not seem as sturdy as the claim — if I really fell asleep on it, I don’t believe it would hold my weight without collapsing onto my seatmate. What it was great for was putting against the armrest or the window to create a soft surface to lean against — preventing hard metal and plastic plane parts from bruising my body as I tossed and turned.

Final Verdict: If you and a family member are sharing adjoining seats, by all means, set this pillow up. Otherwise, it might not be worth packing the EZ Sleep to use in conjunction with another pillow for your head or neck.

Top Tips for Sleeping on Planes

Travelrest Travel Pillow
travelrest travel pillowThe Pillow: Here’s a new one — an inflatable pillow shaped like a banana, or possibly an apostrophe. It’s larger on the top, so you can rest your head, and then tapers into a slight curve (this part slings across your body). A long string at the bottom lets you attach the two ends to secure the pillow around you or your airplane seat.

The Flight: This pillow was hands down my favorite. I contorted my body into all sorts of positions trying to sleep across two airplane seats, and whether I was sitting up or half-lying down, the pillow cradled my head and gave me something to wrap my arms around so they didn’t just dangle uselessly. The only downside was the plasticky smell that plagues all inflatable travel pillows, though perhaps that would go away after a few uses.

Final Verdict: While it didn’t help me sleep, the Travelrest pillow made my attempts more comfortable. I’m keeping this one and will definitely use it again.

– written by Erica Silverstein

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 and represents a destination.

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


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

white face monkey costa ricaEach month, we’ll 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 Diana Ziemniak writes about her first trip to Costa Rica. “I took over 800 photos to capture our memories of the white face monkeys in front of me at the beach, howler monkeys just above me, colorful macaws soaring the skies, toucans and a variety of so many other birds — a nature lover’s paradise,” Diana wrote. “The flowers were so colorfully vivid, reflecting the lushness we experienced in the rain forest.”

Read the rest of Diana’s review here: Captivating Costa Rica. Diana has won an IndependentTraveler.com duffel bag!

12 Best Costa Rica Experiences

Feeling inspired? Write your own trip review! When you write one by June 17, you’ll be entered to win a $150 Amazon.com gift card.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

amsterdam harpsichordAmsterdam has a lot going for it — like the Anne Frank House, boat rides along its storied canals, the Van Gogh Museum and cycling amongst the tulips (or green fields in less glamorous seasons than spring).

Visiting these places via a guide or a pre-arranged tour can certainly offer insights you might not otherwise get, but as an independent-minded traveler, I find usually them slow-moving, frustrating and — okay, I’ll say it — sometimes quite dry. So it was a big surprise to me that on my last visit to Amsterdam, a guided tour led to the best day I’ve ever had in that city.

Our Favorite Spots to Stay in Amsterdam

I’ve always been fascinated by the houseboats on Amsterdam’s canals, but the closest I’d ever gotten to visiting one was the city’s Houseboat Museum. And while I appreciated the history I learned there, the experience didn’t give me a true feel for life in Holland today. I found that instead on a walking tour offered by Van Aemstel Productions, which enabled me and other visitors not only to go inside local homes but also to meet their residents.

The locals were as interesting as their houses. One was a children’s book writer, another a television producer, a third a retired tour guide. One revealed the unique challenges of living in a houseboat — like the limited space; the patio that, while adorable, is visible to every tourist walking by; and the need to move out completely every few years so the boat can be brought into dry dock for hull inspection.

Another local welcomed us into his narrow 17th-century canal house, gamely maneuvering his broken leg up a set of ladder-steep steps to his top-floor apartment. Once there, he gave us impromptu concert on a harpsichord (on which he’d painted a gorgeous seafaring vista). Like the houseboat resident, he was willing to put up with a more challenging lifestyle in order to live in an atmosphere that was special, unique and central to the character of his city.

Van Aemstel Productions, it turns out, specializes in the kind of guided tours meant to give travelers insights into contemporary life, not just history. Perhaps on my next trip there I’ll check out its tour of the Red Light District, led by a former cop who walked that beat.

8 Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours

That tours could offer more than just history lessons was a revelation to me, and since then my antenna has been attuned to experiences in other cities that offer a sense of what’s real there. In San Francisco, for instance, Vayable.com offers a chance to learn about the city’s homeless issues via a tour with a gent who, indeed, is homeless; you can also forage for your own seafood with a local fisherman. Visitors to Buenos Aires might initially put a tango lesson or a visit to Eva Peron’s mausoleum on the top of their sightseeing lists, but personally, I love the sound of Vayable’s “In the footsteps of dictators” experience, which traces the city’s dark history. (Learn more about Vayable in Tourist No More: Three Secrets for Traveling Like a Local.)

I’ve become a guided tour convert — how about you? Share your favorite guided tours below!

– written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

airlines behaving badlyThis post is part of our “Airlines Behaving Badly” series, which chronicles the oft-wicked ways of the air travel industry.

Next time you’re in Beijing, don’t ask anyone behind the China Eastern Airlines desk which gate your flight is leaving from. They might just strike out at you for being so impertinent!

At least that’s what happened back in March when freelance journalist Matt Sheehan filmed an angry airline worker trying to hit several customers with a steel chair.

Now, I’ve heard of angry airline employees yelling at passengers and, of course, there’s the infamous case of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who deployed the emergency slide after claiming he was verbally abused by passengers. And I fully appreciate how difficult it must be for airline workers to rein in their anger when passengers are yelling at them — but this story takes the cake.

According to Sheehan, passengers waiting for a flight were ping-ponged back and forth between several departure gates as their flight was delayed later and later. After the departure gate was changed yet again, he and several other passengers went to the counter for information. Sheehan admits many of the passengers were angry.

Airport Delays: Six Ways to Cope

Enter the manager who tried to calm the crowd down, but also refused to acknowledge that the departure gate had been changed numerous times. And that’s when things got ugly. Two of the angry passengers lashed out; one threw a wadded newspaper at the manager, while another threw a plastic water bottle.

Take a look at how the manager reacted:



Okay, yes, the passengers shouldn’t have thrown anything. But the manager’s reaction was way out of proportion. Maybe if the passenger had thrown a knife, it would have been appropriate. But wadded newspapers and plastic bottles do not rate a steel chair response.

– 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 was taken in Tam Coc, Vietnam.

grotto tam coc vietnam mountain


9 Best Destinations to See from the Water

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.)

Jet Lag Prevention Tips

– 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 true natural wonder.

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


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

airplane etiquetteYou’re stuck on a plane sitting in between two people hogging both armrests, one of whom hasn’t stopped trying to talk to you the entire flight; what do you do? Do you ignore it? Say something? Passively fight back?

A new survey of travelers by the franchise travel agency company Travel Leaders found that whether people will say something or not depends on the infraction. For instance, nearly 70 percent of 1,788 travelers surveyed would say something directly to a passenger in front of them if their personal space were “invaded” with an article of clothing or someone’s hair. But slightly less than half would sit quietly and say nothing if they were stuck in the middle seat and had no access to either armrest.

Personally, when I have a woman with long hair sitting in front of me, I do the passive-aggressive thing. If her hair is hanging over the seat, I blow on it or “accidentally” tug it when I’m putting down the tray. Without fail the woman gets the message. As for being stuck in the middle seat, yeah, I do sit quietly and do nothing (though I’ve challenged myself to do it differently the next time I’m in that situation).

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

I’m not alone in my hesitancy to say something to someone impacting my comfort on a plane. In only two hypothetical situations did more than half of respondents say they would say something directly to another passenger. Both involve the person in front of them: the passenger invading personal space via clothing/hair (as above) and the person whose chair is so far reclined that you can’t lower your tray table or open a laptop computer. In the latter case, 55.4 percent of respondents said they would say something directly to the person.

In some cases, calling on a flight attendant for help is a popular option, though by and large, survey respondents did not indicate eagerness to “tattle” on another passenger.

In only three hypothetical situations did more than a quarter of respondents say they would turn to flight attendants for help:

- 28.1 percent said they would call a flight attendant if the person in front of them ignored crew member instructions to have their seat back upright for takeoff and/or landing;

- 27.9 percent would hit the call button if someone on the plane were talking so loudly everyone could hear;

- 46.7 percent would ask a flight attendant to speak to a parent of a screaming child who was making no attempt to comfort or control the child.

Travelers were also asked what they would do if the person next to them on a flight insisted on trying to talk to them the entire flight. Most (38.1 percent) said they would use a book or other reading materials to limit the conversation, while 18.9 percent said they’d put on headphones and use reading materials. Some (12.2 percent) said they’d actually engage in conversation for the entire flight. Just over 10 percent said they’d be honest and tell the person they prefer not to talk.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

Ever found yourself in one of these situations? How did you deal?

– written by Dori Saltzman