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spinning globeImagine this: you’ve planned a fun (or, depending on your circumstances, maybe not so fun) trip, and you’re at the airport, packed and ready to go. Then the vacation fairy comes along and offers to voluntarily throw a wrench in your itinerary. Would you take her up on it?

The idea comes from Heineken’s new ad campaign. It doesn’t involve a fairy, but, rather, four guys who are randomly plunked down in remote locations, and their adventures documented. As part of the promotion, reports AdWeek, Heineken’s marketing agency set up a game of “Departure Roulette” at New York’s JFK airport last week, asking travelers to forgo their scheduled plans on a whim by pushing a big red button to determine a new, more exotic destination (with hotels and spending money provided by Heineken).

I have to admit that I’m a planner, and one of my worst fears is being stuck someplace foreign without knowing precisely when I’ll arrive home (or, in this case, at my original destination). I don’t like disruptions to my itineraries, and, since not all destinations appeal to me, I’m not sure I’d take the risk (lest I end up like one fellow, whose planned trip to Vienna to visit his grandparents rerouted him to Cyprus instead).

Planning vs. Spontaneity: Which Do You Prefer?

Regardless of whether or not you like Heineken, it’s a crazy — but fun — idea. And it brings us to the question of the day: Would you switch (or have you already switched) your plans at the last minute in hopes of more exciting travel? What would be your ideal far-flung destination? Share your comments below.

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

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 from Ireland‘s dramatic Cliffs of Moher.

cliffs of moher ireland


12 Unforgettable Ireland 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.)

How to Plan a Trip to Europe in 10 Steps

– 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 our last puzzle.)

This week’s puzzle is two words and represents a famous attraction.

Once you think you know the answer, post it below. You have until Monday, July 15, 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 Eileen Sawtelle, who correctly guessed that the pictogram spelled “Neuschwanstein Castle.” Eileen has won an IndependentTraveler.com travel mug. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further opportunities to win.


– written and created by Sarah Schlichter

thailand boatWe recently challenged our readers to write a trip review about their travels for a chance to win a $150 Amazon.com gift card. Reading the submissions that poured in — which described trips to places from Alaska to Amsterdam — gave us a severe case of wanderlust.

It was tough to pick the best review to win the prize, but in the end, we gave the nod to D. Rockett for a review called Thailand Epiphanies. Here’s a taste of the winning review:

“A recent trip to Thailand took me to the bustle of Bangkok, the serene majesty of Chiang Mai and the natural beauty of Phuket … all places that made me realize I didn’t really know who I was until I got there. No. I didn’t channel Julia Roberts in ‘Eat Pray Love.’ Real life can’t be weeded down to a 2-hour revelation of life’s big meanings. Instead, epiphanies occur in the margins of your story’s notebook — notes culled during a boat ride with friends that makes stops to let customers feed catfish and allows for bartering for tchotchkes from a vendor in a canoe; life’s big plan can be witnessed in the humble nature of a people via a refugee camp of women and children from Padong, Aka, and Yao tribes; and balance can be pondered when riding in a barely air-conditioned van on the shoulder of a road for miles on end butted next to a truck who will not budge an inch or cause an accident while he is riding in the proper lane.” Read the rest!

While we only had one prize to give, we want to give a little love to a few runners-up that also wrote excellent reviews. Have a sampling:

Road trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim by Katie Matthews: “During our four-day stay we saw sunsets and rain clouds, lightning and rainbows, and Jupiter and its rings (!!!) all from our little spot on the seemingly top of the world.”

My Week as a Marine Biologist by GingerD: “We would then all go down to the shore where we drew a line in the damp sand, had everyone gather behind the line, ‘wash’ their hands with dry sand to remove oils and give everyone a baby turtle to put down and watch as they made their slow journey down the sand and into the ocean.”

Embracing Amsterdam by Christian Dew: “If you like free beer, yes I said free beer, then you must visit the Heineken Experience and that is located at Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE, Amsterdam.”

Accessible Santa Fe by Helen Gallagher: “As we traveled around, my husband, with his transport chair, found doors were opening for him, a hand was ready to help over a bump in the road, space was made available in small cafes, and certainly our accessible hotel room was more than gracious.”

Feeling inspired? Write about your latest trip!

– written by Sarah Schlichter

Just when you thought SkyMall’s offerings couldn’t get any more ridiculous, we’re back with another round of silliness as a follow-up to 9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet, straight from the company’s summer 2013 catalog.

Editor’s Note: Click on the thumbnail images for a larger view of each product.

singing toothbrush7. Singing Toothbrush: Just can’t get enough of Justin Bieber? Bring him into the bathroom with you … while you brush your teeth, that is. This toothbrush plays your choice of tunes from the Biebs, Lady Gaga, LMFAO or Psy for two minutes while you clean your pearly whites. Fun? Sure. Necessary? At $14.99 each, not so much.

rednek party cup6. Rednek Party Cup: Let everyone know that you’re classier than the average frat boy at your next cocktail get-together with these melamine and glass cups. They’re whimsical, and they’re useful, but at $12.95 apiece, we wouldn’t recommend using them for beer pong.

mademoiselle floor lamp5. Mademoiselle Floor Lamp: Looking for the perfect accent piece to decorate your home’s dungeon in the basement? Resembling a headless woman wrapped in faux leather, this lamp will surely fit the bill. Speaking of the bill, this conversation-starter will set you back $499 (not including $99 for shipping and handling).

replacement collar dress shirt4. Replacement Collar Dress Shirt: Perfect for the lazy, white-collar (no pun intended) bachelor, this snazzy dress shirt comes with two removable collars. When one gets dirty or wears out, simply replace it with a new one via Velcro strips. For just $29.99, you can eliminate unsightly collar-sweat stains … and any chance of finding a date for this weekend. It’s a shame this must-have fashion piece doesn’t also come with replaceable armpits.

toppik hair building fibers3. Toppik Hair Building Fibers: Correct the appearance of thinning hair with this … stuff. What we’ve gathered from the description is that it’s basically colored baby powder that’s sprinkled onto existing hair to create the appearance of a thicker mane. Choose from nine different colors for $21.95, and watch as it stands up to “wind, rain and perspiration.” We hear it also outlasts nuclear winter, withstands chicken pox and repels telemarketers.

zombie of montclaire moors2. Zombie of Montclaire Moors: For just $99.95, this creepy zombie garden statue will make it look like the undead are pushing daisies from under that pristine flower bed you just planted in your backyard. Some assembly is required — it ships in three pieces. (Tip: Place one of his arms in a nearby birdbath for a more authentic look.)

humunga tongue1. Humunga Lips, Tongue and ‘Stache: Would your dog look better with a mustache or a pair of bright red lips? We didn’t think so, but apparently the weird-stuff purveyors at What on Earth did. These comical canine rubber balls come with a tongue, a mustache or lips attached. They’ll set you back anywhere from $12.95 to $17.95 each, depending on size.

The Most Awkward Moments in Travel
16 Signs You’re Addicted to Travel

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

seatbelt seat belt airplaneAs we learn more about how Asiana Airlines’ Flight 214′s crash landing at San Francisco Airport wasn’t as tragic as it could have been, the water cooler debate on network chat shows today is focusing on whether some airplane seats are safer than others.

Conventional wisdom has long theorized that the safest seats are in the back of the plane. And yet, as we report in How Flying Coach Could Save Your Life, studies (and airline experts) don’t necessarily agree. One study, carried out by the British Civil Aviation Authority in partnership with Greenwich University, concluded that passengers are safer in the front of the plane. But Popular Mechanics did an in-depth examination of flight crash occurrences and determined that the rear is a safer place to sit. The Discovery Channel came to a similar conclusion in Curiosity: Inside a Plane Crash, which put cameras inside a Boeing 727 as it crashed in the Sonoran Desert. (The video is worth a watch, though the scientists’ fascination and excitement as they watch the crash footage may strike some as a bit macabre in the wake of the Asiana incident.)

Clearly, there’s no one prevailing view on the safest place to sit on an aircraft, which is understandable when you realize that part of the reason studies are in conflict is that not all crashes — or airplane models — are the same. In the Asiana incident, for instance, the angle of impact severed the plane’s tail, and CNN noted that many injured passengers were seated in the rear.

Boeing’s own Web site simply says, “One seat is as safe as another, especially if you stay buckled up.”

Five Foods to Avoid Before Flying

The good news is that the aviation industry, as ABC World News Tonight reports, has made major and life-saving improvements to protect passengers during emergencies, including sturdier seats, improved flame retardancy on planes and enhanced rescue efforts. But for the moment, as the post-Asiana crash news continues to emerge — and we anxiously await updates on both the status of passengers who were injured and the cause of the crash — we can take some comfort in this, also from ABC News:

“Riding on a commercial airplane has got about the same amount of risk as riding on an escalator,” says MIT International Center for Air Transportation Director John Hansman, Jr.

Poll: Are You a Nervous Flier?

– written by Carolyn Spencer Brown

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 colorful cloth for sale in a market in Quito, Ecuador.

fabric cloth market quito ecuador


Read Ecuador Trip Reviews

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 Most Spectacular Train Trips

– written by Sarah Schlichter

“What’s with all the pictures of your feet?” When I first came home from four months abroad, the podiatric photos were a bit puzzling to my parents — with so much scenery, why look down? But what began as a spur-of-the-moment shot evolved into a habit and, ultimately, a photo series encircling the globe.

Some of the pictures are more personal — in an image featuring my feet and a dirt path, only I know where I was when it was taken. I’m not huge into the “selfie” shot, so it’s become not only a hobby but also my own way of boasting that yes, I was physically THERE. Far from fetishizing, I think feet are symbolic of how far we’ve traveled (even if it wasn’t all on foot).

angkor wat feet

I came across this vibrant leaf while walking the paths between the Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I didn’t know anyone in my tour group, and this shot is a personal reminder that beauty is all around and can sometimes feel extra special when discovered alone.

table mountain feet

My zebra-pattern sneakers felt appropriate in South Africa. Here I was taking a break from the line to board cable cars that would take us to the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town.

india beach feet

I found it difficult not to become completely immersed in India. I slept in a local hostel in Kanchipuram (in the southern state of Tamil Nadu) to wake up early and catch the sunrise on the beach there.

tokyo ice bar feet

On a quick trip to Tokyo while docked in Kobe, Japan, my girlfriends and I made an unexpected (note the flip-flops) visit to the Absolut Ice Bar in the trendy downtown area of Roppongi. The ice made my shoes slick in the rain outside, so falling down the bar’s flight of stairs afterward is part of the memory.

cape may feet

On a weekend getaway in my home state of New Jersey, I couldn’t help but don saddle shoes to match the old-timey feel of historic 19th-century hotel Congress Hall, located in Cape May.

rainbow beach australia feet

Simply taking a break to enjoy the view. Rainbow Beach in Queensland, Australia, was one of the first stops I made on a coastal road trip with my best friend, who emigrated there 10 years ago.

Do you have a travel photo series of your own? Do you snap mid-jump in front of landmarks, wear the same hat in every vacation portrait or love capturing the same sites in every place you go? Send them to us: feedback@independenttraveler.com or comment below.

19 Tips for Better Travel Photos

– written by Brittany Chrusciel

father and daughterNot everyone gets the chance to travel with a parent while both parties are pretty much in their prime. My father and I were lucky enough to have this opportunity on a recent 12-day Crystal cruise from New York City to Reykjavik, during which we shared a stateroom. We finished the cruise with a closer bond between us and a greater understanding of who the other is as an adult.

But we also discovered a lot about how — and how NOT — to travel as a parent/adult child combo.

Here are four lessons we learned during our 12 days:

1. Decide bathroom etiquette on day one. A frantic “no, no, no” from my dad at two in the morning when I almost walked in on him in the loo was the kick in the pants we needed to come up with a plan. It can be as simple as knocking on the door.

2. Pre-empt assumptions before they start. You may not mind if strangers assume the relationship between you and your parent or child is something else, but my father and I found it uncomfortable. We learned quickly to introduce ourselves as father and daughter to avoid any awkwardness.

18 Ways to Keep the Peace with Your Travel Companion

3. Keep your opinions to yourself. Though this works both ways, the lesson was most prominent for my dad. “Your daughter [or son] is an adult,” he says. “She doesn’t need or want you to treat her like a child or have you offer your opinion on most issues of daily living.” So if you think your child is eating something they shouldn’t or should be wearing a sweater because you’re cold, keep those thoughts to yourself.

4. Make time for yourselves. Traveling together for more than a day or two can feel like a lot, whether you’re sharing a room or not. To make sure you each get enough “me” time, do a few things separately. You don’t both have to do the same tour or go to the same museum. Spending half a day apart makes the coming back together again at dinner that much more fun as you share what you each did.

Poll: What does your travel companion do to annoy you?

– 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 a view of the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia.

simien mountains ethiopia hiker


Visit the East Africa Message Board

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 Places You Haven’t Visited — But Should

– written by Sarah Schlichter