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rafael nadalRafael Nadal is a traveler after my own heart. After more than a decade of crisscrossing the globe to play in one tournament or another, the pro tennis player from Spain has learned a few things about travel.

In a recent interview with CNN (see the video below), he reveals that, like me, he prefers to pack light. For a two-month trip, he brings only three bags, including his tennis rackets. (He carries those rackets as hand luggage rather than checking them — a wise move. Remember when Delta wrecked a $10,000 guitar that a musician had checked?)

Like most of us, Nadal appreciates a hotel room with a comfy bed that’s easy on his back. And he admits to an endearing propensity to be late to the airport — something I’ve personally improved upon after missing a flight a few years back.

16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster

Of course, a man ranked at No. 16 on a recent Forbes’ list of highly paid athletes probably isn’t jetting around in coach class the way I am — nor am I the part owner of a beach resort. (If you want to stay at Rafa’s digs, check into the Secrets Aura Cozumel.) And I can’t say I’ve ever tried to get a more spacious room at a hotel to make room for my massage table. Must be nice.

That said, Nadal and I have one other thing in common, whether we’re sitting in first-class or the back of the bus. Even after so many years and so many miles, he still gets nervous on bumpy flights. “If the plane moves, some turbulence, I am nervous flier,” he says. “My hands start to sweat.” Me too, Rafa. Me too.

Fear of Flying

Check out the full interview in the video below.



– 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.

This week’s dramatic shot captures horses grazing on Ukok Plateau, Russia, near the borders of China and Mongolia.

horses ukok plateau russia mongolia china


Our Favorite St. Petersburg 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.)

12 International Foods to Try Before You Die

– 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 and represents a famous landmark.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, May 13, 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 Stacy, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Golden Gate Bridge.” Stacy has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman and Sarah Schlichter

unhappy travelerAs is the case with most things, air travel has come a long way. Gone are the days of breezing into an airport 30 minutes before your flight leaves and visiting the captain in the cockpit before taking your seat. What hasn’t changed, though, is the fact that people love to complain — so we’ve come up with the following list of travel gripes to take you back to the policies of yore. Read on, reminisce and be sure to leave your own additions in the comments section below.

Then: “My bags are so heavy I won’t be able to carry them all.”
Now: “My bags are so expensive I won’t be able to pay for them all.”

Forget nickel-and-diming. Fees for checked bags are becoming downright ridiculous.

7 Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

Then: “I’ll walk you to your gate.”
Now: “I’ll walk you to the ticket counter.”

Regulations have become so strict that you can’t accompany a traveling friend or loved one to the gate anymore. In fact, you can’t even make it much past the ticket counter without proof that you’re actually flying.

Then: “Will this flight really take five hours?”
Now: “Will this security line really take five hours?”

Little known tidbit: Experts* say the amount of time it takes to clear the security checkpoints at the airport is equivalent to the amount of time it takes to plan for, pack for and work enough hours to pay for a trip.

*By “experts,” we mean nobody at all.

Then: “What do you mean I can’t bring a rocket launcher onboard?”
Now: “What do you mean I can’t bring a snow globe onboard?”

As if packing weren’t already difficult enough, now we’re reduced to toting the world’s tiniest bottles of shampoo and conditioner. And does lip balm go in the quart-sized bag or not?

Airport Security: Your Questions Answered

Then: “The person next to me is smoking.”
Now: “The person next to me is taking up half of my seat.”

Sure, the ways in which fellow fliers infringe on your personal space has changed, but the basic fact that they infringe hasn’t changed at all.

Then: “I’m 6’2″, and I have hardly any room to stretch my legs.”
Now: “I’m 6’2″, and I have even less room to stretch my legs.”

As airlines try to cram more passengers on each flight, seats have become smaller and smaller while passengers seem to get larger.

How to Get the Best Airplane Seat

Then: “This food isn’t good.”
Now: “This food isn’t free.”

It used to be that passengers would complain about the quality of the food. Now they complain about having to pay for the right to complain about the quality of the food.

What would you add to this list?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

burano islandMy parents just returned from two weeks in Italy. I visited them a day after they got back. In two hours, they only got through telling me about Venice, Florence and the Amalfi Coast (about half of their trip). They loved it all, but both got the most excited when talking to me about their day trip to the Amalfi Coast with their guide, Carmine.

Carmine is from Sorrento; he knows everyone in Sorrento and around the Amalfi Coast. His connections and knowledge of the area enabled him to bypass long lines of bus traffic, take my parents to lesser known — but equally lovely and less crowded — sites and give them real insights into local life.

11 Best Italy Experiences

So many of those insights came just by getting to know Carmine. After only one day, my parents knew all about him. They knew that all his siblings went to university for tourism, but that Carmine isn’t a school kind of person so he taught himself everything by reading. They met his boyhood friends, Mario and Luigi, who run a hotel in Sorrento. They could rattle off the names of countries Carmine has been to, how he wants to expand his guide business and how he’s having girl problems. The point is, when all was said and done, they couldn’t say enough good things about him and the memorable day he gave them on the Amalfi Coast.

Carmine isn’t the first great guide my parents have had. When I was 21, we took a family trip to Israel. That was 19 years ago, but I still remember our guide, Ron. It was from him that I learned the nickname native-born Israelis give themselves: sabra, a fruit that’s hard and prickly on the outside but soft inside. Ron took us to so many amazing places, told us the history of every place we went, introduced us to locals and even took us, very briefly, into the West Bank.

A great guide can make all the difference when traveling. Sure, you can take yourself around, using a guidebook and some Internet research, but without the color, knowledge and passion a local guide brings to the experience, it’s just sightseeing.

When Do You Need a Tour Guide?

Have you ever had a truly great guide? Where were you and what made him or her so wonderful?

– 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 Table Mountain, the most famous landmark in Cape Town, South Africa.

table mountain cape town south africa


Planning an African Safari

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.)

In Your Face: 9 Up-Close Animal Encounters

– 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 landmark.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, May 6, 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 Steve Grey, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Wailing Wall.” Steve has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

If you’re lucky, you’ve never experienced the sinking feeling you get when your luggage doesn’t show up on the carousel post-flight. But if you’re me — or one of millions of other fliers — you deal with said feeling by either praising yourself for packing a well-stocked carry-on or immediately going into panic mode.

Regardless of your luck with lost bags (or lack thereof), you’ll likely be comforted to know that, according to SITA (Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautiques) — an organization that deals with air transportation communications and works with most major airlines — the number of incidents of mishandled bags has been nearly cut in half over the last five years.

Fun with Numbers: Report Exaggerates Airline Complaints

To see the numbers in an easy-to-understand format, check out the infographic below, published by Irish Independent and designed by Boldface on Visual.ly. (Click the image to see a larger version). It shows that the number of mishandled bag incidents in 2007 was nearly 47 million; in 2012, the number was down to a little more than 26 million — a decline of nearly 45 percent. (Note: “Mishandled bags” includes luggage that fell victim to transfer mishandling, loading failure, loading errors, arrival mishandling, airport/customs/weather-related issues, ticketing errors/baggage switches or tagging errors.)

Source

But wait. Isn’t 26 million a lot? It’s a huge number overall, but the graphic also states that nearly 3 billion passengers flew in 2012. That means less than 1 percent of all passengers had a mishandled bag.

So let’s keep this in perspective. Yes, there are still far too many lost bags, but at least it seems like the airlines are doing something about it.

What to Do if an Airline Loses Your Bag

What’s your take? Have you lost a bag? Do the stats make you feel more secure — or more likely to pack an extra-large carry-on? Weigh in with your comments below.

–written by Ashley Kosciolek