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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 three words and represents one of the world’s most amazing natural attractions.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, June 17, 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 Lou Ann, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Great Barrier Reef.” Lou Ann has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

packing suitcase frustrated womanAs Senior Editor of IndependentTraveler.com, I’ve lost count of how many thousands of words I’ve written about how to travel more efficiently and intelligently. Many of those articles have been advice on how to pack — like tips for squeezing everything into a carry-on no matter how long the trip, and recognizing the signs of four common packing problems. So you’d think by now I’d be a perfect packer.

And yet…

On a recent trip to Toronto, I forgot to pack not one, not two, but five things that I typically bring when I travel. While I managed to remember the absolute essentials — passport, medications, underwear — a couple of the items I forgot were pretty important. Like, oh, toothpaste. I also left without pajamas to sleep in, gum to equalize ear pressure during takeoff, a black tank top (without which one of my other shirts was unwearable) and a plastic bag for dirty clothes.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard to replace most of these items. My hotel came through with a dental kit, I borrowed a T-shirt to sleep in from a friend and I picked up a pack of gum (in a plastic bag, no less) at the airport. But I couldn’t remember the last time I’d packed so poorly — and done so by ignoring so much of my own advice. In the spirit of learning from my own careless mistakes, here’s what I’ll do better next time:

Start packing a few days before the trip. I never remember everything I need to put on my packing list the first time I write it out; starting a few days early lets me add additional items as I think of them. For my Toronto trip, I was so busy in the days leading up to the trip that I simply threw everything into a bag the night before I left. That was strike one.

Quiz: What’s Your Packing Personality?

Recycle packing lists from past trips. Let’s face it — most of what we pack is the same for every trip. So why reinvent the wheel each time? I often dig up old packing lists and adapt them for whatever trip I’m currently taking (shameless plug: it’s easy to do that if you save a copy of our interactive packing list). Had I done this for Toronto, there’s no way I’d have forgotten such basics as PJ’s and chewing gum. Strike two.

Restock your toiletry bag each time you get home. I grabbed the same quart-size bag of liquids and gels that I’d used on my previous trip, not realizing that I’d run out of toothpaste and failed to put another tube in. And that’s why I ended up brushing solely with water my first night in Toronto. Strike three.

The Ultimate Guide to Travel Packing

Which travel mistakes have you made, even though you should’ve known better?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplane childEvery so often you see a travel article about people who think babies and kids should be banned from air travel or moved to a separate section of a plane. These curmudgeonly business travelers assert their right to a library-silent, no-wails-allowed flight. They outline a mile-long list of grievances from squirmy infants grabbing their iPads and magazines to kindergarteners kicking the backs of their seats. As if the disappearance of people under 12 — make that 18 — would make flying so much more pleasant.

To everyone who has shot daggers at the bedraggled parents with the crying baby, daring them to even think of sitting in their row, I’d like to present the view from the other side. As a travel professional, who has flown many times with my son in his two years of life, including a solo cross-country flight without Daddy, I have learned many new things about flying since I became part of the diaper set. Here are some tidbits I’ve gleaned that might make you think differently about flying with babies onboard.

Families need to travel. I spend 40 hours a week writing/editing/talking about travel. I would be a hypocrite if I suddenly stopped flying just because I had a kid. My family lives across the country, I love to explore new places, and I want my son to be exposed to a variety of people and cultures. I’m not going to do that solely within road trip distance — and nor are many other families.

You can predict where babies will sit. Smart parents choose seats in two locations on a plane — the back of a domestic flight and the bulkhead on international flights. While most travelers avoid the back of the plane, parents flock there for easy bathroom access and extra time to hunt for dropped pacifiers while everyone else deplanes. International travelers book bulkheads because this is where the in-flight bassinets hook up so babies can sleep on long-haul itineraries. Kids will be scattered throughout airplanes, for sure, but avoid these two areas or you’ll really be in the baby zone.

10 Reasons Every Plane Should Have a Family Zone

Babies will not scream the whole flight. Except in rare cases of illness or colic, babies do not scream nonstop for an entire five-hour flight. They’re most likely to cry while you’re still on the ground, likely because parents are delaying their next meal until the airplane takes off because nursing or sucking on a bottle helps with the pressure change. Once the airplane levels off, it actually becomes baby heaven — white noise plus vibration is the magic combination that makes most children sleepy.

It’s toddlers you really have to worry about. Babies can be soothed and older kids understand threats (and the power of in-flight movies and video games), but if you’re going to fear anyone, be afraid of toddlers. They’re willful, mobile and vocal, and do not respond to logical arguments. And they love to throw things.

Don’t blame the parents. At least, don’t blame them until you see them ignoring disruptive children. Most moms and dads I know freak out about being “that family” on a flight, so they come prepared with new toys, stickers, coloring books and toddler apps to distract young ones, and they’ll start shushing the instant a disgruntled peep emerges from their child. I’ve even heard of parents handing out goodie bags and drink coupons to their neighbors on long flights. So please don’t judge sight unseen.

Airlines don’t make it easier for families. Airlines might roll out the red carpet for their super-duper-elite fliers, but kids don’t have expense accounts. Many carriers will not guarantee families seats together in advance, seating 3-year-olds with strangers while Mom is two rows back. Frazzled parents are left to beg the gate reps or flight attendants to facilitate swaps. (Please move if you’re asked. If you think flying with kids is bad, try sitting next to a preschooler who is half a plane away from her parents.) Also, not all airlines let families with small children board first. We are really trying not to bump into you as we drag kids and carry-ons down narrow aisles, and don’t mean for our children to be in your face as we quickly stow our bags, but there’s nothing we can do about our Group Four boarding placement.

Kids are curious. You may think it’s annoying that my son is staring at you over the back of the seat, but he’s likely fascinated with your beard or your colorful shirt or your electronics. Babies love to stare; they’re not trying to be rude. If you’re feeling friendly, engage a kid who finds you fascinating — peekaboo is a winner every time. It will buy a harried parent a moment of peace, and you’re guaranteeing no screams for at least two minutes.

The Hue and Cry Over Babies Onboard

Kids are just acting their age — please act yours. Little kids aren’t miniature adults. Their growing brains can’t understand the need to sit still and be quiet in public. They learn by being curious and exploring their environment, and don’t understand why certain things and people are off limits. And, depending on their age, the only way they know to express themselves is by crying. You, on the other hand, are old enough to hold down a job and book your own plane tickets. You should be mature enough not to throw a tantrum when your seatmate isn’t to your liking, to understand that a kid being a kid is not the parents’ fault, and to realize that making someone else feel bad will not make you feel better or improve your flight. So grow up. I’ve been more bothered by adults’ B.O., rude manners, snoring and incessant attempts at conversation than any baby’s vocalizations — and you don’t see me trying to get those people kicked off my flight.

– written by Erica Silverstein

room serviceTwo recent announcements from the hotel and airline industries may signal new travel trends — neither of which is particularly a good sign for consumers.

In a move reminiscent of when airlines began cutting services, a handful of hotel companies have said they will be reducing or dropping room service. According to Fox News, the New York Hilton Midtown revealed it will be getting rid of room service, replacing it with a cafeteria-style eatery. The hotel blamed a decline in demand, but will undoubtedly be saving money with the move. Another New York City hotel following suit is the Grand Hyatt 42nd Street, which reduced room service hours. Outside of New York, the Hilton Hawaiian Village eliminated room service as well.

While I’m not a frequent room service customer, I do appreciate the option … especially if I have arrived at my destination late, feel grungy and am too tired to trudge out to the hotel’s restaurant.

Hidden Hotel Fees

And it’s not like it’s a free service the hotels are eliminating. Room service is notorious for being expensive, so if customers are willing to pay, I don’t really understand why hotels can’t always have it as an option.

Fortunately, not all hotels are jumping onto the bandwagon. A Marriott International, Inc., spokeswoman told Reuters the company has no plans to eliminate room service.

Going in the other direction (at least on the face of it), United Airlines is trying to make it easier for passengers to take advantage of all the “extra” services the line offers, like additional legroom and checked bags. The airline has launched two subscription services that enable fliers to pay one fee to get access to some of the services it normally charges extra for. For instance, from $349 a year you can get “free” checked bags on every flight you take. Or, from $499 a year, you can guarantee yourself an Economy Plus seat. For either subscription, you must select the region you’ll be flying in; the more destinations you want to include, the higher the price.

The subscription service is supposed to save passengers money in the long run. But you have to fly at least 14 times (or seven round trips) in order to start saving on checked bags, assuming you’re only checking one bag in North America.

Seven Smart Ways to Bypass Baggage Fees

The exact number of flights you need to start saving on Economy Plus seats is much more vague, as the pricing of those seats varies by travel distance and when you purchase them.

So unless you’re a very frequent flier within the United States and Canada who wants to check just one bag, you’re probably not going to save a dime by taking out a subscription. Instead, United will just make more money off of you.

It seems to me that’s exactly what both of these companies are trying to do: make more money and reduce expenses by eliminating traditional customer services or continually charging more for them.

And that’s an overall trend I’m not a fan of.

– 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 a lone paddle boarder on a beach in Kauai, Hawaii.

sunset beach kauai hawaii paddle board


Our Favorite Honolulu 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.)

Slideshow: The World’s Best Beaches

– 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 somewhat off-the-beaten area of a very well-known destination (and, incidentally on the day of my birth, is where I was born).

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, June 10, 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 Tiffany, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Staten Island.” Tiffany has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Dori Saltzman

airport securityFollowing an outpouring of opposition from flight attendants and government officials, the Transportation Security Administration recently decided to scrap its plan to allow passengers to carry small knives (of 2.36 inches or less) once again on planes — a practice that’s been prohibited since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

It got us thinking: while some travel-related policies are meant to keep us safe — like the in-cabin knife ban that has been upheld — there are others that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever for consumers. Below, we examine four of them.

Currency Conversion Charges
If you’ve ever used your credit card abroad and been hit with fees for currency conversion, you’re not alone. In some cases, the fees are a percentage of the amount charged — which can add up to a heck of a lot if you’re paying for something expensive like a hotel room. Does it really cost anything for card companies to convert the charges, or is it just one more way for them to make money?

The Best Way to Carry Money Overseas

Airport Security Shoe Removal
If I’m wearing tall, cavernous boots that could hide a bomb or stilettos so high they might double as weaponry, I understand this rule; if I’m wearing flip-flops, I don’t. But wait! The TSA is making exceptions of late. If you’re really young or really old, you can leave your shoes on. As we all know, terrorists are only between the ages of 13 and 74.

Nontransferable Tickets
It’s a concept that’s so rigid it serves only to sell more seats on planes. Life happens, and, sure, airlines can accommodate changes … for the right price, of course. Spelled your name wrong during the booking process? Perhaps you’ll get a sympathetic ear on the phone, and you’ll be allowed to change it without too much of a hassle. Or maybe you’ll be forced to pay a change fee or, worse yet, rebook completely. But forget about simply switching the name on your companion ticket if your flaky friend decides she can’t accompany you on that expensive vacation after all.

What Not to Do at the Airport

Mandatory Extra Fees
Raise your hand if you’ve booked a hotel or a rental car for one price and been slapped with “mandatory extras” after the fact. I recently took a trip to the Dominican Republic, where the driving conditions are so perilous that I was forced to pay for insurance on my rental car, even though my insurance provider back in the U.S. had me covered. And let’s not forget about the time I went to Las Vegas with friends, only to be pummeled with a “resort fee” because — gasp! — our hotel had a pool (which, to be honest, is a standard amenity at any hotel worth its salt). Let’s get it straight: if something is “mandatory,” it’s not an “extra” — it’s part of the price.

Which travel policies do you think are silly, unfair or outdated? Post them in the comments.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

thermalstrike suitcaseWhen I arrived at my hotel on a recent trip to Toronto, I did my usual bed check, pulling back the duvet and casting a careful eye over the mattress and box spring. Fortunately, I saw no telltale reddish brown spots, so there didn’t seem to be any bed bugs lurking between my sheets. But if there had been, I had a line of defense: a 20-inch carry-on suitcase from ThermalStrike.

The suitcase (also available in a 24-inch size) uses infrared technology to heat its contents to a temperature of 140 degrees — hot enough to kill bed bugs and their eggs. To start the heating process, you must load both sides of the suitcase evenly, stand it up, raise the telescoping handle and plug the bag into the wall. The heating process shuts off automatically once the treatment is over. (The company’s Web site offers an estimate of 2.5 hours for the “fatal temperature” to be reached, but in two different tests my carry-on shut itself off within 45 to 60 minutes.)

The suitcase gets hot to the touch during the process, but not to the point of danger; kids or pets touching the case by accident shouldn’t be harmed. Of course, you’ll want to take out anything that might be damaged by heat, such as cosmetics, sensitive electronics and that chocolate bar you’re bringing home for Mom.

Read on for a few of my favorite and least favorite things about the suitcase — and to see how to win it for yourself.

The Good
Bed bug concerns aside, the ThermalStrike is a solid carry-on bag. The materials are sturdy and high-quality (with the possible exception of the telescoping handle, which felt a tad flimsy), and it’s an attractive bag inside and out. A built-in TSA-approved lock allows for a little extra security, and the spinner wheels were an upgrade over the rolling upright I’ve been traveling with for the last decade.

Though I don’t believe I was in any danger from bed bugs on this particular trip, treating my clothes and other belongings with the suitcase gave me a little extra peace of mind.

How to Find a Clean Hotel Room

The Bad
I’m used to traveling with a soft-sided carry-on, which has a couple of external pockets where I can stow things like my quart-size bag of liquids and gels for easy access at security. The hard-sided ThermalStrike carry-on was less convenient on that front; to get my toiletry bag out, I had to lay the suitcase on its side and unzip the main compartment to get to the “quick-access pocket” inside — not ideal in a crowded security line.

The pivoting wheels occasionally seemed to get a little stuck when I tried to turn the suitcase, both in the airport and on a few uneven sidewalks in Toronto.

To run the heating process in countries outside of North America, you’ll need both an adapter for the plug and a converter with a voltage of at least 300 watts. (See Electricity Overseas for more info on this topic.)

At $349 for the carry-on and $399 for the 24-inch suitcase, the price may be beyond the reach of many travelers.

33 Ways to Sleep Better at a Hotel

The Verdict
If you can afford the price tag, the peace of mind may be worth it, especially for an otherwise sturdy bag.

Editor’s Note: For those who are asking, the 20-inch carry-on weighs eight pounds, according to the product specs on Amazon.com. The 24-inch suitcase weighs 10.5 pounds.

Want to try it out for yourself? We’re giving away our (gently used) suitcase! Just leave us a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on June 11, 2013. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the ThermalStrike carry-on. This giveaway is open only to residents of the lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.

Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner of the suitcase is Susan Dalpe. Congratulations, Susan!

– 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 shot was taken in colorful Burano, an island in Venice.

burano venice italy colorful


Photos: 11 Unforgettable Italy Experiences

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.)

Our Favorite Venice Hotels

– written by Sarah Schlichter